Registered Dietician Shira Barlow Warns People To Use Caution When Taking Ozempic For Weight Loss

Social media has driven demand for the type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic after the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug's higher dose of semaglutide — the active ingredient that suppresses appetite, according to United Press International (UPI). People are now using the drug "off label," which means taking a drug for reasons other than the drug's approved purpose, per the New York Times.

This can be risky because it's still a relatively new medication, according to registered dietician Shira Barlow. On her podcast, "Good Instincts," Barlow says although Ozempic is also approved for weight loss in people with a body mass index of 30, she's heard stories of people begging their doctors to make exceptions or falsify blood work so they can try the drug for themselves. This has created a shortage of Ozempic for those with diabetes who need it (via UPI).

"There are serious risks and we do not know the long-term effects, and so it would definitely not be my first choice for someone who does not fall in that range and has the ability to do it the slow and steady way," Barlow said.

Risks and side effects of Ozempic

Barlow said many people who have taken the drug get extreme nausea and gastrointestinal distress. She warns that it has the potential to inflame the thyroid, which can create thyroid tumors, and it may also cause pancreatitis. She adds during the podcast episode, "This medication works on receptors, which then signal to the pancreas to create more insulin. I wonder if it's possible to overstimulate this mechanism and throw other hormones off course."

Barlow said that she understands people wanting to take the drug to assist their weight loss, and she has a celebrity client who has already lost a significant amount of weight by taking Ozempic. However, she says that people in the public eye should be a little more transparent about whether they take the drug so that their admirers don't feel bad when their own weight loss efforts don't have the same success.

"These drugs have been studied for diabetics, but they were approved so recently, we don't know what the long-term effects might be, so that feels extra risky for something that isn't medically necessary," Barlow said.

According to the New York Times, those prescribed Ozempic must take the drug continually or risk gaining their weight back. People who take the drug off-label risk more damaging side effects since it hasn't been tested on those populations.