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Taking semaglutide medications like Wegovy and Ozempic can help people lose weight, but they often regain lost pounds once they stop. Sergey Mironov/Getty Images
  • Research has found that when people stop using semaglutide medications like Ozempic and Wegovy, weight rebound occurs.
  • Experts say this is because the drug is not a cure and it does not prevent the metabolic adaptation that occurs during weight loss.
  • Long-term changes in diet and activity are an important part of maintaining weight loss.
  • It is also important to consult with a physician before using weight loss medications.

Research published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism indicates that once people stop using the medication semaglutide (better known by the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic), any weight they’ve lost is likely to return.

According to Dr. Ibiye Owei, Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, semaglutide is a glucagon-like-peptide-1 agonist (GLP-1 agonist) which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat diabetes and obesity or overweight.

“It works by making people feel full sooner and suppressing the appetite so people do not feel as hungry,” she explained. “One of the ways it does this is by slowing emptying the stomach so there is a feeling of satiety.”

Owei added that anyone with obesity defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 and above or a BMI of 27 and above who is experiencing weight-related complications such as hypertension or type 2 diabetes would be a good candidate to use this medication.

According to Dr. Kathleen Dungan, an endocrinologist in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, there are several potential benefits to using semaglutide.

“It is one of the most effective treatments available for either condition, outside of bariatric surgery,” said Dungan.

“Moreover, there is evidence that the use of semaglutide may reduce the risk for developing diabetes and may be particularly useful in individuals who have prediabetes.”

While drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic might seem like a miracle to those with diabetes and obesity, the truth is the effects only last while you are taking the semaglutide medication.

A study published in April 2022 which sought to examine changes in body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors upon the termination of the drug, found that after a year people had regained two-thirds of the weight they had lost.

The positive changes they had seen in cardiometabolic risk factors like blood pressure, blood lipids, HbA1c, and C-reactive protein had similarly reversed.

According to the study authors, these findings reinforce the need to continue treatment in order to maintain the benefits of the medication.

According to Dungan, weight rebound occurs quite simply because the drug does not cure the underlying issues that led to weight gain in the first place.

Content creator, Remi Bader made a guest appearance on the podcast “Not Skinny But Not Fat” to share that she had not only “gained double the weight back” once she stopped taking Ozempic, but her “binging got so much worse.”

“I saw a doctor, and they were like, it’s 100% because I went on Ozempic,” Bader shared during the podcast episode.

Owei explained that metabolic adaptation occurs while patients are losing weight and this can contribute to weight gain when the medication is ended.

However, she said that this effect isn’t unique to semaglutide.

“This happens regardless of what weight loss method is employed,” she said, pointing out a study showing that contestants of the TV show “The Biggest Loser” had experienced a decrease in resting metabolic rate that still persisted 6 years after the competition had ended.

You may experience a number of other side effects while taking weight loss medications like Ozempic and Wegovy. These can include:

Dungan said the optimal duration of use for semaglutide is not known. However, since you may regain weight if you stop the drug, it is important to make changes in your lifestyle as well.

“Semaglutide is not a substitute for diet and exercise,” she said, “but can be a very effective treatment.”

Owei added that studies have shown that obesity is a chronic disease, so long-term medication would be necessary in order to prevent weight regain.

“However, I would always weigh the risk of using a medication against the benefits in making any decision for long-term use,” she said.

There are some potentially serious side effects that can occur with this medication, she noted, including pancreatitis, kidney failure, and medullary thyroid cancer. There is also the possibility of risk to a developing fetus.

Exercise can also be helpful in weight maintenance after losing weight on semaglutide, she said, explaining that the contestants mentioned previously were aided in their maintenance efforts by increasing physical activity.

“As we know,” she said, “all studies have strengths and weaknesses and most are not reproducible but these lifestyle changes are crucial to both weight loss and maintenance in addition to medication use.”

Owei added that it is important to check in with your healthcare provider or a physician certified in obesity management prior to using weight loss medication.

“Like any other chronic disease, it requires long-term management,” she concluded.