Although Ozempic is prescribed to treat diabetes, many patients are misusing the medication for its ability to facilitate weight loss. Ozempic has over one billion views on TikTok and many of the videos are showing off dramatic weight loss results. But the new weight loss trend has come with the potential of significant side effects, mainly hair loss. Although the side effect is rare, some patients are experiencing unexpected hair shedding and health professionals are warning patients about the potential dangers of this off-label fad.
Ozempic & Weight Loss
Semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy) is a glucagon-like peptide 1(GLP-1) that decreases appetite and increases satiety, leading to decreased caloric intake. It also causes decreased gastric emptying, leading to the sensation of being fuller longer after meals, which typically decreases calorie intake.
According to Johnny Franco, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon and owner of Austin Plastic Surgeon in Austin, Texas, Semaglutide, Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro are predicted to be the number one prescribed medication in the United States in 2023 and change plastic surgery, fitness and overall health for patients.
The FDA has approved Wegovy for obesity and the medication can be helpful for obese patients, especially if they have weight-related medical problems. Ozempic has FDA approval for improving blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes in combination with diet and exercise. But the medications should not be the only method patients use to try to lose fat.
"These medications should be used along with close medical supervision and in conjunction with lifestyle modifications, including a healthy, reduced-calorie diet and exercise," said hair restoration surgeon Alan J. Bauman, M.D., ABHRS, founder, CEO and medical director of Bauman Medical Hair Transplant Hair Loss Treatment Center in Boca Raton, Florida. "Patients should also be aware that side effects of these medications can include nausea, vomiting, gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, bone density loss, lean muscle loss and hair loss. Weight loss is a common side effect of Ozempic and hair loss is a rare side effect that has been reported in some patients taking the drug."
Hair Loss Caused by Semaglutide
Some of the main symptoms of hair loss that may occur from Semaglutide include thinning hair, increased hair shedding, receding hair line, bald patches and an itchy or irritated scalp. However, despite the influx of stories from social media about Ozempic-caused hair loss, the side effect is considered rare. According to a clinical trial cited by NBC News, hair loss occurred in 3% of people taking Wegovy.
Dr. Bauman said the exact reason why Ozempic has caused hair loss is still unknown, but he suggests it can be related to the reduction in caloric intake. There is also the belief that weight loss may disrupt the normal balance of hormones in the body, which can contribute to hair loss. Ozempic may cause inflammation and kill cells in hair follicles, which could also contribute to hair loss.
"Caloric restriction (bariatric surgery, restrictive diets, cleanses or fasting, etc.) can cause hair loss because when the body is in a state of caloric deficit, it redirects its energy to essential functions, such as the brain and organs, instead of non-essential functions like hair growth," Dr. Bauman said, "Hair follicles require a significant amount of energy and nutrients to grow and maintain healthy hair, so when the body is deprived of these resources, it can result in hair loss. In addition, caloric restriction can lead to nutrient deficiencies, such as protein, iron, biotin, and others, which are important for hair growth and health, and it is also possible that caloric restriction can cause stress and hormonal imbalances, which may also play a role in hair loss.
Patients at risk for hair loss are recommended to see a specialist prior to taking semaglutide to determine if they are prone to genetic hair loss or metabolic imbalance that can further cause hair loss.
"We can do an evaluation of your DNA and your scalp measurements so we can prevent future hair loss by making changes in your nutritional intake, recommending hair growth medications, laser light therapy or performing in-office hair regeneration treatments such as PRP or TED," Dr. Bauman said. "Hair loss can be triggered by any sort of weight loss, whether it is a fad diet, fasting, or bariatric surgery due to metabolism changes, so if weight loss is your goal, we can create a plan that will work best for you."