Ozempic: Is it the next Phen-Fen

Deann Zampelli, Health Coach, M.A., HWC
ILLUMINATION
Published in
3 min readJan 30, 2024
Photo by Manuel Chinchilla on Unsplash

In the 1990s, a wonder drug took the step aerobic, Atkins-dieting, slip dress wearing population by storm. Fenfluramine/phentermine, the pharmaceutical treatment known as Fen-Phen, appeared to be the panacea that cellulite battlers worldwide had been searching for. Loss of appetite, feel good hormones surging and fat melting off at a staggering rate. It was a miracle.

Until it wasn’t.

By 1997, it had been pulled off the market as new data showed that it could cause heart valve damage in as many as a third of its 77 million users worldwide. Which it did.

Today, we are experiencing a similar phenomenon with the medicine, Ozempic, the brand name for semaglutide injection, approved by the FDA in 2017 to help treat Type II diabetes. Ozempic has been extremely effective in helping to lower blood sugar by increasing insulin production. For diabetics.

Once it was discovered that one of the side effects of Ozempic was weight loss, Novo Nordisck, the manufacturer of Ozempic, developed a sister drug, Wegovy, to treat obesity. Both contain the same active ingredient; semaglutide and both injections come at a price. In addition to the actual cost of the drug, which can reach thousands of dollars per month depending on your insurance coverage, the side effects can be crippling. Gastrointestinal disorders are among the most common which include; nausea, cramping, constipation and diarrhea. But the real party starts when you learn about things like Gastroparesis, a condition that can slow or stop the food moving from your stomach to your small intestine, and worsen diabetes by elevating blood sugars (insert ironic joke here.) Like any drug, the list of possible side effects is long. However, if faced with Type II diabetes, the pros might outweigh the cons. Or, if you are obese and facing the health concerns associated with it, you might take the chance.

But why would anyone risk getting pancreatitis, thyroid cancer or kidney failure if they aren’t a diabetic or obese?

To get thin. Really thin. Really fast.

While social media is getting better at encouraging body positivity, we are still a thin-obsessed/diet-oriented culture that has eleven-year-old girls suffering from body dysmorphia. Celebrities appear to be ageless and superhuman with their chiseled abs and timeless bodies, some even openly touting the benefits of these weight loss drugs. Is it any wonder that there has been a consistent shortage of Ozempic over the past two years, creating major health concerns for the diabetics who are actually in need of the treatment?

The effects are so drastic, there is a term, “Ozempic-face” to indicate the gaunt cheeks of those who have lost significant amounts of facial fat. We need these natural stores of adipose to maintain our facial integrity. Otherwise, the skin sags making us look like a deflated balloon discarded at the end of a parade. Some users are turning to facial fillers to counteract the cosmetic side effects.

Semaglutide injections are meant to be long-term or lifelong treatments initially designed to lower and maintain blood sugar levels. One of the reasons for the weight loss is that the medication actually slows the rate at which the stomach empties, thereby creating a more prolonged feeling of fullness. However, once the medication is stopped, it only takes around 4–5 weeks for it to leave your system completely and for your appetite to return to normal.

This is where it gets tricky. Stay on the medication for an indefinite period of time and risk the myriad side effects, or go off of it and face gaining the lost weight back or possibly even more. Most studies have shown that users gain some, if not all of the weight back within a year.

The most significant concern, however, is a potential health crisis in the future and whether the real cost will be in dollars, or in human life.

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