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"Weight Loss" Drug Meant for Diabetes Now Facing Shortages, Raising Warnings and Concerns

People are spending thousands to get their hands on this drug.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

A diabetes drug designed to regulate insulin is facing shortages due to people using it for a weight loss supplement. Semaglutide, whose brand name is Ozempic, was designed to stimulate insulin in people with diabetes, which results in lower blood sugar levels and slower digestion for patients who had been prescribed the drug. One consequence of this is weight loss, and it didn't take long for people to start taking the drug purely as a weight loss aid, even if they were not diabetic. As a result of non-diabetics taking the drug, Ozempic is now facing shortages, according to the FDA—and people who actually need to take the drug for medical reasons are concerned. Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic, created weight loss drug Wegovy, which has a higher dose of semaglutide, and now Wegovy is also facing shortages.

"Ozempic is a real lifeline for people, and for those who need it, what it's teaching people to do is exactly what we should be doing: eating often and eating smaller amounts of food in order to balance your blood sugars, because the longer we can have balanced blood sugars, the longer our lives will be, and the more balanced our blood sugar, the less diseases we will have in life," says registered dietitian Kim Shapira, who believes the problem is not the drug, but people looking for quick fixes. "The average American gained 29 pounds in COVID, and so losing that weight will decrease your risk of high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, having a stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides. And it's taking away emotional eating, because they're now physically in tune with what their body can and cannot eat." 

The side effects of Ozempic are unpleasant—patients may experience nausea and headaches. "I haven't seen anybody not experience nausea, which can be very upsetting and crippling for like two or three days," Shapira says. Aside from medication—which should never be started or stopped without consulting with a doctor—there are certain lifestyle factors that can be greatly beneficial in lowering blood sugar and helping put type 2 diabetes into remission. Here are five science-backed methods that can help lower blood sugar. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Weight Loss

weight loss

Studies show that 10-15% weight loss can help put diabetes into remission and reactivate dormant insulin-producing beta cells. "The strongest evidence we have at the moment suggests that type 2 diabetes is mainly put into remission by weight loss," says Diabetes UK. "Remission is more likely if you lose weight as soon as possible after your diabetes diagnosis. However, we do know of people who have put their diabetes into remission 25 years after diagnosis."

Diabetics embarking on weight loss programs should always consult a doctor. "Losing weight can make a big difference for people with diabetes—it can lower glucose levels in the blood, which may decrease the effects of diabetes and make the condition more manageable," says 

Charles Dr. Svendsen, MBA, MD. "But there are added complications and risks, too. For example, making big changes to your diet can cause serious problems. One of these is hypoglycemia, when your blood sugar goes so low that you risk the danger of going into a diabetic coma. If you have diabetes, you have to be especially careful about your weight loss plan."


Dietary Changes

eating carbs

Many people have found success in regulating their blood sugar by switching to a healthy, low-carb diet. "All carbohydrates – to some degree at least – will raise your blood insulin levels," says Rangan Chatterjee, MD. "That is why I consider type 2 diabetes a form of 'carbohydrate intolerance'. Protein can also raise levels but to a much lesser degree. The only macronutrient that keeps your insulin levels and, therefore, your blood sugar stable is FAT! Therefore, if you are trying to reduce insulin levels, you need to reduce your amount of certain carbohydrates and replace them instead with healthy, natural fats."

Dr. Chatterjee makes it clear there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy fats, and not all carbs are off limits. "When I say healthy, natural fat – think nuts and seeds, avocados, omega 3 fats (found in almonds, flax seed and cold water fish, like wild salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna), extra virgin olive oil and whole eggs. And when I talk about reducing certain carbohydrates, I mainly mean reducing your intake of  refined carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and bread. Non starchy vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower) are fine and can be eaten in abundance. Many fruits are packed with carbohydrates, so if you're trying to reduce your carb intake, try and limit your intake to low-carb fruit, such as rhubarb, watermelon, berries, peaches and blackberries… Avoid ALL added sugar. If your body is already in a state where you cannot process carbohydrates and sugars properly, you are going to have to take steps to fully eliminate all sugars, at least in the short term."



Tired senior woman after jogging. Tired senior woman resting after running outdoors. African female runner standing with hands on knees. Fitness sport woman resting after intensive evening run

Exercise is important not just for weight loss but for overall health, experts say. "Exercise is a key part of any weight loss plan," says Dr. Svendsen, "and for diabetics it offers multiple health benefits:

  • Improves blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity (which means insulin works better)
  • Some types of exercise can help burn extra glucose in the body and also decrease resistance to insulin
  • Lowers your risk for heart disease
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces stress

Before you exercise, make sure your glucose level is not too low (below 100 mg/dl) or you could risk low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). You should also be cautious if your blood sugar is too high, because exercise can sometimes raise blood sugar. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program."

"In general, the best time to exercise is one to three hours after eating, when your blood sugar level is likely to be higher," advises Harvard Health. "If you use insulin, it's important to test your blood sugar before exercising. If the level before exercise is below 100 mg/dL, eating a piece of fruit or having a small snack will boost it and help you avoid hypoglycemia. Testing again 30 minutes later will show whether your blood sugar level is stable. It's also a good idea to check your blood sugar after any particularly grueling workout or activity. If you're taking insulin, your risk of developing hypoglycemia may be highest six to 12 hours after exercising. Experts also caution against exercising if your blood sugar is too high (over 250), because exercise can sometimes raise blood sugar even higher."


Try Intermittent Fasting

intermittant fasting

Studies show intermittent fasting can increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin blood levels. [Note: People who take glucose-lowering medications should speak with their doctors before making dietary changes, as IF plus medications could cause hypoglycemia]. "People with diabetes should be those who benefit most from intermittent fasting," says Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah. "But these diets also present some of the greatest potential safety issues because of the medications that people with diabetes are typically taking.

"Essentially, fasting is doing what we prescribe diabetes medications to do, which is to improve insulin sensitivity. Even when people aren't losing weight on a fasting regimen, some research has found that insulin sensitivity improves markedly. This is something you typically don't see with other caloric-restriction diets."


How To Keep Diabetes In Remission

Senior woman checking her blood glucose level.

Doctors make it clear that while diabetes cannot be cured, it can be treated to the point where medications may no longer be necessary. "The reason we use the word remission is because if someone were to think that they were cured or reversed, the challenge is they may then not feel like they need to have anything checked," says Dr. Robert Gabbay, ADA's chief science and medical officer.

People who have diabetes should frequently check their blood sugar to make sure they are on track. "Regular blood sugar monitoring is the most important thing you can do to manage type 1 or type 2 diabetes," says the CDC. "You'll be able to see what makes your numbers go up or down, such as eating different foods, taking your medicine, or being physically active. With this information, you can work with your health care team to make decisions about your best diabetes care plan. These decisions can help delay or prevent diabetes complications such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation. Your doctor will tell you when and how often to check your blood sugar levels."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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