7 Sep 2023

Science of Ozempic (Semaglutide) 

Over the last year, semaglutide has become a “blockbuster” weight loss drug [1]. Known commonly as Ozempic, which is primarily prescribed to treat Type 2 diabetes, or Wegovy, its weight loss-focused variant, semaglutide has been touted as the newest answer to the American obesity epidemic [2]. Given how semaglutide has led to weight loss in many patients for whom other treatments did not work, the drug’s appeal is evident [2]. Nevertheless, it is crucial to understand the science behind Ozempic before prescribing it or taking it. 

Semaglutide’s ability to induce weight loss is attributable to its status as a long-acting glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist [3]. GLP-1 is a naturally occurring hormone that signals to the body when it feels full and slows down the emptying of the stomach [4]. To explain the science more clearly, as a GLP-1 receptor agonist, semaglutide/Ozempic can mimic the effects of GLP-1, meaning that it decreases people’s interest in food, causing them to eat less and thereby lose weight [4]. It also delays how quickly food exits the body [2]. Together, these two effects explain why the drug has led to such dramatic results among patients who previously struggled to lose weight. 

As for Type 2 diabetes, the science behind Ozempic’s efficacy in treating that condition centers on its status as an incretin mimetic [2]. As an incretic mimetic, it prompts the pancreas to release insulin when blood sugar levels are elevated [5]. Insulin then transports sugar into necessary body tissues where it can be used as energy, consequently lowering the body’s blood sugar levels [5, 6].  

Beyond its common uses in weight loss and diabetes treatment, Ozempic may also be an effective treatment for other health conditions. One such condition is addiction. The satisfaction one feels after eating is closely tied to the desire for addictive substances, such as alcohol and drugs [7]. Accordingly, some researchers have suggested that GLP-1 receptor agonistsmay be an effective treatment for various addictions [7].  

Another possible use fis for Alzheimer’s treatment [7]. Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic and Wegovy, is currently conducting two clinical trials to determine whether semaglutide may be able to slow cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients [7]. Previous research has suggested that semaglutide can “prevent damage in brain blood vessels that can lead to Alzheimer’s,” suggesting that it may be able to preserve nerve cells, induce the growth of nerve cell branches, and control inflammation [7].   

Lastly, Ozempic may have other benefits for obese patients, independent of weight loss, because of the medication’s potential ability to improve natural killer (NK) cell function [8]. NK cells are crucial for cytokine production and the elimination of target cells; therefore, defects in NK cells are associated with a heightened risk of cancer [8]. People with obesity tend to have defective NK cells [De Barra]. GLP-1 receptor agonists like semaglutide may be useful in restoring NK cell functionality and, therefore, improving the health of people with obesity [8]. 

While more research is needed to fully understand the medication’s benefits and adequately gauge its long-term effects, data thus far finds semaglutide to be a powerful drug. Exploring other uses for Ozempic may also help us understand the science behind other conditions as well. 


[1] S. V. Smith, “’You forget to eat’: How Ozempic went from diabetes medicine to blockbuster diet drug,” NPR, Updated April 1, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.npr.org/2023/04/01/1166781510/ozempic-weight-loss-drug-big-business.  

[2] “Ozempic for weight loss: Does it work, and what do experts recommend?,” UC Davis Health, Updated July 19, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://health.ucdavis.edu/blog/cultivating-health/ozempic-for-weight-loss-does-it-work-and-what-do-experts-recommend/2023/07.   

[3] A. M. Chao et al., “Semaglutide for the treatment of obesity,” Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 159-66, April 2023. [Online]. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tcm.2021.12.008.  

[4] D. Blum, “What Is Ozempic and Why Is It Getting So Much Attention?,” The New York Times, Updated July 14, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/22/well/ozempic-diabetes-weight-loss.html.  

[5] “Semaglutide Injection,” MedlinePlus. [Online]. Available: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a618008.html.  

[6] “Semaglutide Injection,” Cleveland Clinic. [Online]. Available: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/19011-semaglutide-injection.  

[7] C. Hopkins, “Researchers keep discovering new uses for Ozempic. Proving it works isn’t easy.,” NBC News, Updated June 24, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/ozempic-other-health-conditions-pcos-alzheimers-rcna90457.  

[8] C. De Barra et al., “Glucagon-like peptide-1 therapy in people with obesity restores natural killer cell metabolism and effector function,” Obesity, vol. 31, no. 7, pp. 1787-97, May 2023. [Online]. Available: https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.23772.  

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