Elon Musk recently replied to a tweet questioning his “fit, ripped and healthy” physique with a pair of tweets stating “Fasting…and Wegovy”. But what is Wegovy and how does it work?
Trigger Warning: Discusses weight loss and unhealthy
Wegovy, also called Ozempic, is traditionally used as an injectable weight loss drug for type-2 diabetics or people with a BMI over 30 (also categorised as obese). While it has been proven to reduce the weight of patients by an average of 35 lbs, patients are also prescribed healthy diets and fitness plans. The objective of practising healthy living alongside treatment is to get patients to a point where they can maintain their weight independent of the drug.
Time for a science lesson…
The active ingredient of Wegovy is semaglutide, an artificial version of the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). This hormone is produced by the proglucagon gene in L cells after you eat, and released into the small intestine. GLP-1 stimulates the glucose-dependent release of insulin from the pancreas, causing the sugars to be taken up into your cells.
At the same time, GLP-1 prevents the release of glucagon, which causes the body to break down the sugar and fats stored in your cells to increase blood sugar levels. It also suppresses the production of glucose by the liver, a process called gluconeogenesis. Through these mechanisms, GLP-1 plays a vital role in regulating blood sugar levels.
Diabetics have high blood sugar levels and in some type-2 diabetics the natural production of GLP-1 is reduced. This means the patient’s blood sugar levels must be closely monitored and adjusted with insulin injections. Taking Wegovy essentially means more GLP-1, which means more insulin, allowing the cells to open channels and remove sugar from the blood, while also reducing the amount of sugar being released back into the blood.
Alongside its effects on hormone levels, GLP-1 has also been shown to slow gastric emptying. Therefore, patients taking Wegovy will feel full for longer after eating, leading to a reduced appetite. This additional effect has been targeted by the ‘dieting industry’ as a low-effort way to lose weight, beyond altering your diet and fitness routine.
How is Wegovy administered?
Typical diabetic treatments are taking insulin via injection or, more recently, using an electronic tethered or patch pump. Type-2 diabetes treatments are inherently different as the disease can be put into remission by losing weight. The current NHS options are eating healthy foods, weight loss surgery, or drug treatments such as Wegovy.
Wegovy is administered by self-injection once a week and the body’s tolerance to the drug is regulated by increasing the dosage every few weeks for five months until the maximum amount is reached. This level is then further maintained for the rest of the treatment. Wegovy patients lose the majority of weight in the first 20 weeks of taking the drug, so it is a long treatment process.
What does this mean for patients?
Using weight loss drugs against medical advice is, of course, unhealthy. In this case, Elon Musk was using a drug intended for overweight type-2 diabetics while at a normal weight. Consequently, the recent media focus on Wegovy (Ozempic) has led to a shortage of the drug availability in the NHS due to an increased number of patients asking for it.
Wegovy is only manufactured by one company, Novo Nordisk, and they alone cannot meet the rising demand. Novo Nordisk released a public statement describing a plan to use “contracted manufacturing organizations” to increase production, which will come online in the first half of 2023. As a battle continues between the diet and medical industries for a limited resource, patients who urgently require this medication are being left untreated.
Unhealthy eating habits in the media
Elon Musk is just one of a long line of people in the public eye who have gone to the extreme in their quest to look good or are guilty of promoting unhealthy eating habits.
Kim Kardashian managed to lose an unhealthy 21 lbs in 2 weeks for the 2022 MET Gala. The Kardashian clan have previously taken part in paid advertisements for slimming teas and appetite-suppressant lollipops. These advertisements were received with heavy criticism online, given the family’s influence on young women.
Kate Moss was quoted with her personal mantra in Women’s Wear Daily in 2009, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. She has since tried to distance herself from this statement.
Zac Efron went down to 5% body fat for his role as an ex-Olympic swimmer in Baywatch by “only eating organic protein and leafy greens and maintaining a strict workout regime for months.” For reference, male athletes are suggested to be somewhere between 6-13% body fat according to the American Council on Exercise.
For his role in The Witcher, Henry Cavill chose to follow a dehydration diet in the days leading up to topless scenes. He described over three days he would allow himself a dwindling amount of water in order to get his “skin really thin, so it sits on the muscles”.
On the more experimental side, celebrities like Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley openly discussed how they eat clay as part of a detox diet. There is no scientific evidence that ingesting clay removes toxins from the body.
There’s a wealth of expensive personal trainers, dieticians, nutritionists, and doctors’ prescriptions available, all selling the ‘on trend’ bodies. While a focus on health and well-being is something to be celebrated, the pressure to looking good can be incredibly harmful, especially if the ideal body type requires a weight loss drug, or photoshop, to be achieved.
To find more information on managing your weight through a healthy lifestyle, go to this NHS website.