This article is a part of the Spoon series The Deal With Diet Culture, covering health topics and products through the lens of food. 

The other day during my nutrition lecture, my professor pulled up a clip from Call Her Daddy with guest Chelsea Handler. She spoke about her anti-aging doctor handing out Ozempic, a medication for people with type II diabetes mellitus, and unknowingly, she took it. This is a trend that is sweeping through Hollywood, with rumors of injection parties and speculation that any star's quick weight loss is from this drug. Whether true or not, the reality is, now, there is a shortage. The rapid increase in popularity of the injection for weight loss has been revealed as a major contributor to the national shortage.

What even is Ozempic?

Ozempic, also known as a semaglutide injection, was initially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a medication to help people manage their type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM). It helps to reduce their A1C, a measure of their blood sugar average over the span of three months. The American Diabetes Association recommends the level of an A1C be less than 7% for adults with diabetes. Ozempic has effectively helped those with T2D reach and maintain this goal with a once-a-week shot. 

In addition to reducing A1C, there are celebrated side-effects like weight loss and reduction of cardiovascular risks. “Weight loss can dramatically help improve patients’ control over their diabetes,” said Jennifer Madore, a certified diabetes care and education specialist and registered dietitian. “Typically, excess weight gain leads to more insulin resistance that we see in patients with T2DM, so weight loss can help reduce insulin resistance.” Similar prescriptions, like Wegovy, are made from the same compound but are actually marketed for weight loss in individuals who are clinically diagnosed as obese or overweight with comorbidities related to their weight.

The Unpleasant Side Effects

Let’s talk about the weight loss associated with Ozempic. In the Call Her Daddy podcast, Chelsea Handler mentions her loss of appetite and even having symptoms of nausea. Despite the discomfort, Madore was unsurprised by the recent traction of the drug.

“If a side effect is as effective or more effective than other medications compared to its original purpose, then it’s adopted into society fairly quickly,” she said. Gastrointestinal side effects are common with users of semaglutide. Nausea is accompanied by other not-so-fun side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation. Semaglutide-induced weight loss is also linked to a decreased appetite. Essentially, the drug does this “by decreasing gastric emptying, which helps people feel fuller quicker, and by reducing food intake,” Madore added. 

The Market Reality

If you’ve been paying attention to the news surrounding Ozempic, you’ve noticed the increasing shortage of the medication because of the off-label use.

Although it has made headlines, this is not a new phenomenon in the medical field. “Traditionally, statins were used to help lower cholesterol,” Madore said, referring to the group of medications originally prescribed for lowering high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), a contributor to fat buildup in your arteries. “Now, statins are recommended as a standard of practice for people with diabetes that are 40 to 75 years old and have a LDL cholesterol range of 70 or greater.”

She mentioned two other diabetic drugs, Farxiga and Jardiance. “While beneficial for reducing blood sugar levels, they have also been found to be very heart-protecting, particularly in reducing the risk of heart failure. These may not be used to the same extent that Ozempic is.” Despite shortages, Novo Nordisk, Ozempic’s manufacturer, said the drug will be back in stock by mid-March. If that doesn’t happen, it could cause complications for those with T2DM that rely on Ozempic. “Even though weight loss is a tremendous side effect from these medications,” Madore said. “We still need to prioritize getting it to patients that may need it the most.”