Over the past year, the new drug Ozempic has begun circulating widely in Australia outside of officially prescribed channels. This lay usage is now showing up in the adverse event reporting from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Ozempic was developed in the 2010s and cleared clinical trials as a treatment for type 2 diabetes in 2017. By stimulating insulin production, Ozempic ameliorates high blood sugar caused by insulin resistance in diabetics.
However, the drug took off after publication of a March 2021 paper reporting its effects in a study on weight loss. Following a 68-week trial period, approximately 2,000 participants lost an average of 15% of their body mass taking Ozempic. Its popularity boomed since then, fuelled by its reputation as a Hollywood weight loss drug.
Since March 2021, the TGA’s Database of Adverse Event Notifications has reported 284 adverse reactions to Ozempic with 87 occurring in the past 12 months. Of course, the unreported number is likely to be multiples higher.
Just 31 Ozempic adverse reactions were reported prior to March 2021, which suggests its fame as a weight-loss fad has had a real impact. Over the past year, around two-thirds of patients suffering adverse reactions to the drug in the TGA reports were female.
A key issue lost in the Ozempic hype is its effect on muscle mass. By forcibly reducing blood sugar by raising insulin production, the body will burn both fat and muscle to try to compensate. Indeed, the initial March 2021 paper attributed only 60% of the weight reduction to fat loss. The remainder was muscle mass loss, at 38%, along with minor reductions in bone density.
“Japanese researchers reported that people lost half a kilo of muscle after three months on the drug,” Dr Rob Newton, Professor of Exercise Medicine at Perth’s Edith Cowan University, told Nine Newspapers. “It’s a common problem with interventions to lose fat.
“There’s little understanding that a healthy balance of muscle and fat is key to fending off chronic disease and frailty over the long haul. Most chronic disease isn’t driven by fat mass but low levels of muscle mass and inactivity.”
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