What IS semaglutide? Q&A about the weight loss drug

What IS semaglutide? Everything you need to know about weight loss wonder drug loved by Hollywood stars like Kim Kardashian

  • Semaglutide, marked as Wegovy, will be available in pharmacies from the spring
  • Brits must have BMI of 35 and one weight-related condition to access the drug
  • Elon Musk and Jeremy Clarkson have credited semaglutide for their weight loss

A weight-loss drug dubbed ‘Hollywood’s worst kept secret’ is set to hit shelves in the UK in just a matter of weeks.

Semaglutide — marketed as Wegovy for the overweight or obese — will be available in Boots pharmacies from the spring.

Ozmpic, a wonder drug containing the same ingredient, is already in the UK but only available for diabetes on the NHS.  

Patients wanting to get the miracle slimming jab must have a BMI of at least 35 and one weight-related condition, such as heart disease. It will only be dished out after a consultation. 

Elon Musk and Jeremy Clarkson have both publicly credited semaglutide for helping them lose weight.

Meanwhile, Kim Kardashian was rumoured to have used it to rapidly lose 16lbs (7.3kg) to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s iconic ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress at the 2022 Met Gala. 

Semaglutide, marked as Wegovy to those who are overweight or obese, will be available in pharmacies from the spring

Wegovy and Ozempic work by triggering the body to produce a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 that is released naturally from the intestines after meals

How does semaglutide work? 

Semaglutide acts like a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake — making users feel less hungry.

It also slows down the movement of food in the gut, which helps users stay full for longer. 

On top of this, it signals to the body to release insulin, which helps move digested sugar from the blood into cells where it can be used for energy. 

Clinical trials show that those taking the drug lost up to 15.3kg (2 stone and 6lbs), on average, over the space of 15 months, compared to just 2.6kg (6lbs) in the placebo group.   

It is given as a weekly injection straight into the stomach, thigh or upper arm. 

How are Ozempic and Wegovy different?

Confusingly, semaglutide is branded as two separate drugs, both of which are made by Denmark-based pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk.

Ozempic is targeted at patients with type 2 diabetes. It lowers their blood sugar and reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes among those who also have heart disease.

Sister drug Wegovy is packed with a slightly more potent dose of semaglutide and is instead targeted at people who weigh too much. 

Celebrities including Elon Musk, Jeremy Clarkson and Remi Bader have spoke out about the ‘genuinely incredible’ Ozempic, which suppresses appetite and leaves users feeling fuller for longer

Who can get it?

Wegovy will be available in the UK from the spring. 

But only for adults with at least one weight-related condition and a BMI of 35 or higher, which is classed as obese, according to guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

However, in exceptional cases, people with a BMI of 30 to 35, which is also obese, can be given the drug. Patients can be on the drug for a maximum of two years. 

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Wegovy has been available for people in the US who are overweight and have at least one weight-related condition since 2021. 

Meanwhile, the NHS watchdog approved Ozempic for people with type 2 diabetes in 2019. Health chiefs in the US gave it the green light for the same group in 2017.

But private clinics in the UK can give patients the drug off-label for just under £200 per month, while it is freely available in the US. 

However, doctors have said off-label prescribing is ‘very dodgy ground’ as medics are not allowed to promote drugs for a treatment outside the product licence.

Novo Nordisk has warned it does not support off-label prescribing, which can limit supply for type 2 diabetes patients who have been prescribed the medication. 

Boots has said it will prescribe and dish out the drugs. People can log their interest in the treatment online at Superdrug and Lloyds Pharmacy. A month’s supply costs £73.25 but it is unclear what price the NHS has negotiated for the treatment. 

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson (left) revealed this month that he was taking Ozempic in a bid to lose weight. When asked in October whether following a healthier diet or hitting the gym was behind his 30lb (13.6kg) weight loss, Elon Musk (right) credited ‘fasting’ and ‘Wegovy’

Kim Kardashian is rumoured to have used Wegovy to rapidly lose weight in order to fit in Marilyn Monroe’s famous ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress at the 2022 Met Gala (pictured) 

What are the side effects? 

As will all medications, semaglutide is not entirely risk-free.

Users commonly complain of nausea, constipation and diarrhoea, while some also suffer from acid reflux, fatigue and complain that food tastes different after taking the drug.

It is this side effect that some people credit for further assisting their weight loss — by making their favourite junk food taste bad. 

Thyroid cancer, pancreatitis — when the organ becomes inflamed — and kidney failure are rare but serious side effects.

Patients have also warned of their face appearing gaunt, exhausted and old — a side effect that has been labelled ‘Ozempic face’.

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