Ozempic and other weight-loss drugs are more dangerous than you think

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If you type the names of the weight-loss drugs Wegovy or Ozempic into a search engine, sponsored links dominate the page.
Clever but cynical celebrity placement has meant that drugs with a risk/benefit profile suitable for the dangerously ill have been scooped up the mildly overweight.
So I was sceptical when I opened Magic Pill, Johann Hari’s new book documenting his experience with the new drugs.
But Magic Pill, it turns out, is good.
They range from developing a deflated look, variously known as “Ozempic Face” or “Ozempic Butt”, to potentially life-threatening conditions including thyroid cancer, pancreatitis, a loss of muscle mass and malnutrition.
“Imagine if Ozempic made people more likely to be depressed,” the psychiatrist Max Pemberton tells Hari.
They’ve prompted books such as Magic Pill to lift the lid on addictive stuffing, and have broken the myth of self-control.
The Magic Pill is published by Bloomsbury at £20.

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If you search for the names of the weight-loss medications Ozempic or Wegovy in a search engine, the results page is dominated by sponsored links. The first one to appear on my laptop says, “Starts from £149 – UK regulated and approved.”. Another offers “free next-day UK delivery.”. To find any information that is reliable or not paid for, you have to start scrolling.

So when I picked up Johann Hari’s new book Magic Pill, which details his experiences with the new medications, I wasn’t exactly convinced. It didn’t help that Hari didn’t have any online photos that showed him to be particularly big, nor did the clichéd description of a chi-chi party where everyone is secretly on Ozempic and as skinny as a stick accompany him. “You’re not being honest with yourself,” an irate friend tells him. Could this really be the same man who tells us he was practically mainlining fried chicken? Someone who could devour three takeaways in one night? Additionally, you won’t be truthful with your readers if you write [a book] in this manner. “.

This confirmed what I had been thinking from the beginning, in part because Hari doesn’t have the best reputation on Fleet Street, where he caused a stir ten years ago by stealing and fabricating quotes. But Magic Pill turns out to be a good one. Like many others who are just beginning to explore our relationship with food, Hari is astounded by what he discovers and is forthright enough to share his findings in an unadorned manner. His realization that no one truly understands how the new GLP-1 antagonists suppress appetite, making their side effects far less predictable than one might imagine, was one of his “lightbulb moments.”.

Actually, Hari lists 12 risks connected to the new medications, which go beyond the most typical side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and constipation. These risks are based on evidence that has only recently begun to emerge and that still needs to be thoroughly investigated. These can include deflating to the point of having an “Ozempic Butt” or “Ozempic Face,” as well as potentially fatal illnesses like thyroid cancer, pancreatitis, muscle loss, and malnourishment. Oh, and most people who stop within a year end up gaining back two thirds of the weight they lost.

Speaking with experts, Hari discovers that the new medications’ safety profile is centered on a sick population—those with diabetes and extreme obesity—rather than on a healthy population with modest weight gain, like himself. This group of people already has a degenerative condition, which may be hiding many of the possible side effects of the medications. Hari is told by psychiatrist Max Pemberton, “Imagine if Ozempic made people more likely to be depressed.”. Given that individuals with chronic illnesses are already more likely to experience depression, that could have been overlooked. “.

Hari discovered that the substance had an impact on his health. “I felt like my body was getting smaller… I felt more confident, fit, and attractive. However, I experienced another emotion as well. I felt surprisingly subdued. I wasn’t feeling as enthusiastic as usual about the day ahead. I frequently experienced emotional dulling and felt a little listless. This evoked strong feelings. My acquaintance, who is in her 20s and has no prior history of mental illness, was admitted to the hospital recently due to severe anxiety and depression, which she started taking Ozempic for a “weight problem” that I was unaware of. ).

Granted, these are merely anecdotes. However, as Hari points out, there are solid scientific grounds for believing that GLP-1 antagonists may primarily function in the brain rather than the stomach. They have been observed to reduce cravings for foods like fried chicken, cocaine, and alcohol, for instance. Some specialists question whether they function by undermining our reward and pleasure pathways. The European Medicines Agency issued a warning in July 2023, stating that it was possible that Ozempic was causing some users to consider suicide and self-harm. Europe and North America are currently looking into hundreds of these reports; however, it’s crucial to note that no cause-and-effect relationship has ever been established. It turns out that most safety signals are false alarms, according to Hari. “.

Hari does a great job examining the burgeoning ultra-processed food industry and the science of addiction that powers it, forcing us all—like we should be—to look past the new drugs and toward the reasons behind their creation. He presents us to lab rats that are so dependent on junk food that they would sooner get electric shocks than go. That’s right—the addicted rats won’t switch back to a healthy option unless they are starved to death. Like when “my dad made salads for me, and I cried and went to my room hungry,” Hari remembers the incident. “.

A wonderfully readable examination of one of the trickiest issues of the day is provided by Magic Pill. Hari outlines both the advantages and dangers of the novel medications. Even though he was overcome by vanity, “I have tentatively concluded that, for me, the benefits outweigh the risks.”. “.

If I had one criticism of the book, it would be that Hari, like a lot of people in his generation, doesn’t go far enough in advocating for a political solution to the epidemic of highly processed foods that is killing us. This will irritate many in the public health field: nearly all of the pollutants and addictive toxins that previously plagued us have been eliminated by law. New legislation will be needed if junk food is ever to be replaced by substances like opioids, tobacco, and contaminated drinking water.

Strangely enough, the introduction of the new “wonder” medications might hasten that process. These have disproved the notion of self-control and led to books like Magic Pill exposing the truth about addictive materials. It doesn’t get much more nanny-like than needing a daily injection of an experimental hormone.

Bloomsbury is charging £20 for The Magic Pill. Call 0808 196 6794 or visit Telegraph Books to order your copy for £16.99.

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