By now, you’ve likely heard of the supposed new magic shot for weight loss. Though it goes by different trade names, the molecule itself is called semaglutide, and reports from people who have been prescribed the shot for weight loss and/or diabetes management are beyond remarkable – 20-25% of body weight melting off effortlessly with no hunger and no increase in exercise. Additionally, excluding its $1400/month price tag, there seem to be no disadvantages. The shot works so well that there have been editorials to the New England Journal of Medicine worrying that it might crash the economy, either by bankrupting healthcare providers as complications of obesity and diabetes vanish, or else by bankrupting the government and private insurers being charged $1400/month indefinitely for every overweight person in the U.S. (roughly two thirds of the population), because the weight of course comes back if you stop taking the $1400/month shot. Gyms have even expressed concerns they might actually go out of business, wondering if anyone will continue to exercise in a world where this shot is available.
Holistic healthcare practitioners also have reason to feel threatened, as a medical solution so simple and effective for weight loss, with no apparent drawbacks, would seem to undermine the entire ethos on which alternative medicine is based – that there are no quick fixes, and real results require a holistic approach to disease in lieu of wonder-drugs. This especially applies when it comes to weight loss, as obesity is considered to be the consummate lifestyle disease, not an illness demanding a medical cure. Conventional medicine has been trying to change this for years, employing “overweight” as a diagnostic noun instead of an adjective (as in, this patient “has” overweight as opposed to simply being overweight), medicalizing the issue as treatable with drugs or surgery as opposed to just healthier eating, recently even going so far as to recommend gastric bypass procedures for children as young as 14. This is horrible from a holistic perspective, because these children are literally still growing and so require the capacity to ingest food in normal physiologic amounts. In addition to the old surgical solution, thanks to semaglutide there is now a drug-based solution as well, and indeed the shot has already been approved for use in children as young as 12.
But are there any real problems with this shot? Maybe curing obesity is a good thing? Though some people have reported nausea as a side effect, many others report being completely, and in some cases life-changingly, satisfied with their results. Even some celebrities have admitted to using it in the process of attesting to how well it works, but other celebrities have abruptly discontinued it after experiencing what is now known to be a relatively common side effect: rapid facial aging. Evidently, use of semaglutide for weight loss can deplete the normal, healthy fat pads underlying facial skin, resulting in a gaunt, wrinkled, old-looking face. Some doctors have identified nutrient depletion as the cause of this rapid aging effect, presumably a consequence of artificially depressing the body’s natural appetite for food. Other doctors have been recommending cosmetic surgery and injectable fillers to remedy the problem, or in other words, treating the side effects of allopathic treatment with more allopathic treatment. From a holistic perspective, this rapid aging effect is an ominous warning that a magic shot for effortless weight loss is indeed too good to be true.
While the short-term effects of eating less are often seen as desirable, as they typically include weight loss, the long-term effects of restricting one’s daily intake of nutrients can be devastating. Another drug that inarguably works exceptionally well for weight loss, possibly even better than semaglutide, is methamphetamine. However, no one with cosmetic aspirations would dare use meth for weight loss, given its infamous and very characteristic effects on one’s appearance. One of the reasons meth destroys people’s hair, skin, and even teeth, resulting in those bedraggled mug-shots with the lusterless eyes and gaunt aspect, is that the drug essentially obviates one’s need to eat and sleep. Meth does wonders for weight loss because it gives unlimited energy and focus while almost entirely suppressing appetite, the deleterious effects of which soon become apparent on the users’ faces. You cannot starve the body of nutrients and expect it to remain healthy or attractive, at least not for very long. The saggy, old-looking face that has spurred some celebrities who have used semaglutide to consequently seek injectable fillers and other cosmetic solutions for their ruined faces is probably not a pure consequence of fat loss. The aged, worn-out appearance more likely has to do with the fact that the drug has been unnaturally suppressing their appetite, and so these people have become malnourished from chronically eating less than their bodies require. In other words, just a milder form of what typically happens to meth addicts.
Even if semaglutide produces desired effects in the short-term, no one is currently talking about what is bound to happen to people who use it in the long-term. Any disease that can be treated or prevented with vitamins or minerals, which holistic practitioners recognize is the vast majority of them, is bound to become more common and severe in someone whom the shot has tricked into eating less food than their body is naturally demanding, and therefore assuredly requiring. We often forget that calories are not the only reason, arguably not even the primary reason, we need to eat food: in addition to calories, food provides critical nutrients required to stay healthy. Many would be shocked to learn it is medically possible for an overweight person, stranded on a desert island with no source of food, to literally starve to death – and still be overweight when they finally die. Many of us could live for months on our stored calories, but would die much sooner without the nutrients food provides. Semaglutide tricks the body into eating fewer calories, but also fewer nutrients, far fewer than would be supplied on a healthy diet if your appetite control mechanisms were functioning normally.
Some people claim to be obsessed with food and simply unable to stop eating due to constant hunger, and it is assumed the problem here is that their bodies are somehow craving to eat more calories than are actually needed, as if the body is wrong. But what if the constant hunger is a response to a permanent state of low-level malnutrition, which is never appeased because the high-calorie foods consumed to appease it are so poor in nutrients? There are some calorie sources, notably processed sugar and alcohol, that actively deplete the body of nutrients in the process of supplying it calories, because these calories sources require additional nutrients to fully metabolize. One can easily see how a high-calorie, nutrient-poor diet might create a vicious, perpetuating cycle of hunger and inevitable overeating. A holistic approach would be to address this with a diet of more nutrient-dense foods, things like leafy vegetables, organ meats, whole grains, and seafood for instance, to supply superfood levels of nutrients with fewer calories going in. In contrast, by enabling diet-free weight loss without addressing the root dietary cause, semaglutide seduces people into eating smaller quantities of foods that were likely not high enough in nutrients to begin with. To be realistic, the long-term results these patients can expect will be things like vision and hearing loss, osteoporosis, joint and skeletal degeneration, poor wound healing, loss of libido, and anything consequent to lowered immune function, which would include one’s risk for all types of cancer. And this is assuming you escape the medullary thyroid and pancreatic cancers specifically identified as shorter-term risks in the clinical trials.
As holistic practitioners, we know that the reductionist calories-in, calories-out approach to weight loss is flawed, and we should not be afraid to stand by the side of truth and wisdom when it comes to advising patients against quick fixes that can devastate long-term health. There are so many holistic ways to approach weight management that do not involve starvation or depriving the body of key nutrients required for longevity, beauty, energy, and a vibrant feeling of wellness. In the long run, pharmaceutical treatments to promote effortless weight loss will undoubtedly prove themselves to be exactly what they sound like: too good to be true.