Expert warns of Ozempic side effects after losing three stone on weight-loss drug

A pharmacist holds a box of Novo Nordisk A/S Ozempic brand semaglutide medication
Johann Hari has listed several side effects of taking the drug -Credit:Bloomberg Finance LP/Getty

A health expert has issued a warning about the side effects of the 'weight loss' drug Ozempic, after shedding three stone himself.

Johann Hari, a New York Times best-selling author, spoke on the latest episode of hit podcast show Dairy of a CEO, Johann Hari shared his experience of being on the drug, how it affects him and its 'weight loss' properties.

Ozempic is primarily used to treat adults with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, working in conjunction with diet and exercise to lower blood sugar levels by stimulating insulin production in the pancreas. However, it's been noted that the drug can also lead to an average weight loss of around 15 per cent when combined with dietary changes and physical activity.

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Despite this, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has stated that while Ozempic is not officially approved for weight loss in the UK, it is frequently used "it is commonly used off-label for that purpose" for this purpose.

Johann Hari began his journey with Ozempic in January 2023, taking weekly injections to combat weight gain experienced during lockdown, resulting in a three-stone loss. Before starting on Ozempic, Hari confessed to feeling "deeply conflicted from the very beginning" about the "extraordinary benefits and disturbing risks of the new weight loss drugs," reports Wales Online.

Reflecting on his experience, he shared: "I remember the first day I took the injection, a couple of days later I remember waking up and I was lying in bed and I had this weird feeling, when you're not quite with it. I was struggling to articulate it and I felt very nauseous, which everyone gets when they start taking.

"But that wasn't the thing that was puzzling me, and then I realized I'd woken up and I wasn't hungry - I don't remember that ever happening to me before... I was literally 80% less hungry than I normally am and it basically stayed that way from then on."

Hari also highlighted the potential health risks linked to the drug, including an increased chance of developing thyroid cancer. Citing research by Jean-Luc Faillie, a professor at the University Hospital of Montpellier, Hari noted: "Whatever your thyroid cancer risk was at the start, it will go up by between 50 to 75%, if this research is correct."

Common side effects of medications like Ozempic often include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and constipation. Yet, there are additional side effects that extend beyond these.

These can manifest as a deflated appearance, commonly referred to as "Ozempic Face" or "Ozempic Butt". Risks also encompass pancreatitis, muscle mass reduction, and malnutrition.

"Ozempic face" as a side effect

"Ozempic face" is a term often associated with being a side effect of the drug. But it is important to remember this can be a side effect of any GLP-1 drug (glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor) or any other cause of rapid weight loss.

According to Harvard Health, the rapid loss of fat in the face can cause:

  • a hollowed look to the face

  • changes in the size of the lips, cheeks, and chin

  • wrinkles on the face

  • sunken eyes

  • sagging jowls around the jaw and neck.

If weight is lost in a more gradual way, these changes may not be as noticeable. It's the faster pace of weight loss that occurs with GLP-1 drugs that can make facial changes more obvious. If "Ozempic face" side effects are significant, they can be treated with plastic surgery.

Other side effects

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and constipation are the most common side effects of GLP-1 drugs. Nausea can be managed by avoiding strong smells and eating crackers, mint, or ginger-based food or drinks about a half hour after taking a GLP-1 drug.

Vomiting can be managed by staying well hydrated and having more frequent meals in smaller amounts. Diarrhoea can be managed by drinking plenty of water and avoiding dairy products and high-fibre foods until symptoms go away. Constipation can be managed by getting enough fibre in your diet and drinking plenty of water.

To help avoid gastrointestinal side effects of GLP-1 drugs:

  • Eat slowly and stop when full.

  • Have smaller portions.

  • Avoid being too active immediately after eating.

Less common but more serious side effects of GLP-1 agonists include:

  • pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that causes abdominal pain

  • gastroparesis, in which movement of food out of the stomach is slowed or stopped

  • bowel obstruction, a blockage that keeps food from passing through the intestines

  • gallstone attacks and bile duct blockage.

When to see a doctor

Most side effects of GLP-1 drugs are not serious. You should immediately seek medical attention if you have: severe vomiting and diarrhoea, severe pain or tenderness in your belly, inability to pass gas or move your bowels or jaundice (yellow skin colour).