“Ozempic” oral pills may be here sooner than you think

Whether it’s the topic of conversation at a birthday party, the appearance of ads during your favorite reality show, or the trend of your TikTok algorithm, it seems like everyone is talking about weight-loss drugs these days.

Does this make sense. The ability to lose weight quickly and effectively using medication is still a pretty new concept. And while buzzing diet drugs like Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy have relied on weekly injections, new oral medication pills made with the same active ingredient, semaglutide, may soon hit the market, once again revolutionizing access to these medications.

Last week, the American Diabetes Association presented two new studies funded by Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic and Wegovy, which shown significant weight loss for subjects taking semaglutide pills at 25 and 50 milligrams daily. Why should you care? These pills could continue to lower the barrier to entry for people interested in using diet drugs. After all, popping a daily pill might seem like the easier and less scary choice than frequent needle injections.

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There’s something very harsh about injecting yourself weekly, and when it comes to weight management, which is such a sensitive matter, the idea of ​​injecting yourself to achieve weight loss carries stigma, says Rekha Kumar, a board-certified endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist and chief of medical affairs at Health found. The idea of ​​a pill definitely lowers the barrier to entry, and I think these are game-changers for their safety, tolerability, and efficacy.

Meet the experts: Michael GlickmanMD, is a Board Certified Family Medicine and Obesity Medicine Physician and founder of Revolution Medicine, Health and Fitness. Rekha KumarMD, is a Board Certified Endocrinologist and Obesity Medicine Specialist and Chief of Medical Affairs at Health found. Rocio Salas-WhalenMD, is a Board Certified Endocrinologist and Obesity Specialist.

Are you curious if an oral pill is as effective as injectable Ozempic or when semaglutide pills might be available? Women’s health consulted with experts and they broke down everything you need to know about the new oral weight loss drug, including how it works in the body and the potential side effects.

What is semaglutide and how does it work?

Semaglutide, the compound found in drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy, is a class of drugs called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1) receptor agonists. GLP-1s work by increasing the amount of insulin released after a meal, which plays an important signaling role during digestion, says Dr. Kumar.

When you eat, the food passes through your stomach and intestines, and GLP-1’s job is to send a signal when you’re full. From there, your pancreas is alerted to produce insulin, which regulates blood sugar and reduces your appetite, he explains.

In other words, think of semaglutide as a way to restore signals of fullness, adds Dr. Kumar. These meds help you feel naturally full by making the “fullness” signal in your brain more sensitive, he explains.

Many people also report that semaglutide actually quells the urge to think about eating, giving them more control over their food choices, adds Michael Glickman, MD, board-certified family physician and obesity physician and founder of Revolution Medicine, Health and Fitness. Consequently, the drug may aid in weight loss, but should be combined regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet.

These pills treat the real underlying cause [of weight gain], and it’s something people have been judged about all their lives or feel bad about because they think it’s their fault, explains Dr. Kumar. We are now saying that there is a seemingly simple biological answer that can practically solve this problem along with a healthy lifestyle.

What did the new studies of semaglutide oral pills find?

This isn’t the first time an oral semaglutide pill has hit the market. A pill at the maximum dose of 14 milligrams has technically been approved by the FDA for type 2 diabetes since 2019, sold under the brand name Rybelsus, Dr. Glickman explains. And, similar to Ozempic, many obesity medicine specialists have already used oral Rybelsus off-label to treat obesity in prediabetic and diabetic patients, adds Dr. Glickman.

The original studies of oral semaglutide pills (aka Rybelsus) only showed an average weight loss of 8.4 pounds in diabetic patients, explains Dr. Glickman.

But these new studies have found that taking an oral pill containing 25 or 50 milligrams of semaglutide can have similar weight-loss effects as a weekly injection of Ozempic or Wegovy, he says. Rocio Salas-WhalenMD, a board-certified endocrinologist and obesity specialist.

For context, after a few months on the maximum dose of Ozempic or Wegovy, patients typically lose about 15 percent of their body weight. Comparatively, one of the new studies looking at daily use of 50-milligram oral semaglutide pills, people lost an impressive 15.1 percent of their body weight after 68 weeks.

For the first time in modern history, we have effective treatment options to reverse obesity and thereby improve all metabolic conditions associated with obesity, significantly improving life expectancy, he says. Patients who have previously been hesitant about an injectable drug may find that taking one tablet a day is very manageable.

Are semaglutide oral pills already available?

No, these high dose “Ozempic” pills are not available right now. However, the low-dose oral semaglutide, Rybelsus, is already on the market for use with type 2 diabetes.

The more potent drugs have just been studied in phase three trials and will need to submit to the Food and Drug Administration for review and approval before they’re available to the public, explains Dr. Kumar.

If a drug is chosen for follow-up quickly after phase three trials are completed, it may still be at least another six to 12 months before it is officially approved and on the market, adds Dr. Glickman.

The time it takes for the drug to hit the market after FDA approval can be immediate, assuming Novo Nordisk has already completed advanced manufacturing of the drug and established a reliable supply chain, he explains.

Bottom line? It will probably be another year (or more) before the pills are available to the public.

Is there a difference between the injection and the pill?

Not really, since these two drugs work the same way and produce very similar weight loss results, says Dr. Salas-Whalen. The only practical difference is the method of administration: a weekly injection versus a daily pill, she adds.

Whether a patient opts for the pill or the injection will revolve around personal preference. A pill and a weekly injection come with different schedules and it really depends on your lifestyle, preferences and affordability.

The pill should be taken in the morning on an empty stomach at least 30 minutes before food, says Dr. Glickman. If someone eats or drinks before the 30-minute window is up, it may not be absorbed as well and be less effective, so I think weekly injectable options will remain very popular, she explains.

Even a semaglutide injection needs to be refrigerated, adds Dr. Salas-Whalen. A lot of times patients are constantly on the go or traveling and it gets a little difficult to carry around a pen that needs to be refrigerated, so they’re good candidates for the oral version, she explains.

Injectables are also prescribed in higher doses because they’re taken only once a week and absorbed differently in the body since they don’t have to pass through the digestive tract, says Dr. Kumar.

And of course, if you have an aversion to needles, the oral pill is a much easier option (although the injection itself is typically painless), adds Dr. Salas-Whalen.

What are the risks with a semaglutide pill?

In one of the studies, 80% of people taking the semaglutide pill experienced gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain. Nearly 13% also experienced tingling sensations in their skin. Nausea, vomiting, and dehydration are also common, adds Dr. Salas-Whalen.

But these side effects are actually quite comparable to those you get with the injection. To get the same results as a 2.4-milligram shot, let’s say you need to ingest 50 milligrams a day to achieve the same effectiveness, says Dr. Kumar. If you are trying to reach a dose in the pill that is as effective as the injection, then you will keep increasing the dose of the pill.

That said, most mild to moderate side effects typically wear off over time as your body adjusts to the meds, adds Dr. Glickman.

And while some celebs have talked about wanting to go Ozempic after giving birth, Dr. Kumar says semaglutide shouldn’t be taken if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding because it’s not clear whether the drug can affect a fetus. You could also have an allergic reaction to the drug, so it’s important to work closely with a doctor, he adds.

Finally, semaglutide pills should be avoided if you have a history (or family history) of medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2, or thyroid cancer, says Dr. Kumar. If you have kidney, liver or pancreas problems, you should also be aware that more serious side effects could develop, he adds.

Of course, you should always make sure you’re talking to a doctor who has experience prescribing these medications, emphasizes Dr. Salas-Whalen.

Be careful who is giving you this drug, ask the doctor how many patients he has treated, ”he says. greater competence.

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Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She is a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she loves all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.

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