No, GLP-1 Supplements *Are Not* the Same as Prescription Drugs Like Ozempic

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It's safe to say the demand for (and popularity of) GLP-1 drugs for weight loss has never been higher. Medications like Wegovy and Zepbound (not to mention the diabetes drug Ozempic, which isn’t actually meant to be prescribed for weight loss) have taken the culture by storm. And now, we’re seeing over-the-counter GLP-1 supplements hit the market, claiming to get the same job done.

But can these non-prescription options deliver the same results, and are they actually safe? Here, obesity medicine doctors give us the low-down on GLP-1 drugs for weight loss and over-the-counter options.

Experts In This Article

First, a quick refresh on GLP-1 medications

GLP-1 is short for glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist medications, originally created to treat type 2 diabetes, says Meghan Garcia-Webb, MD, an obesity medicine expert who's triple board-certified in internal medicine. It might seem like the term “GLP-1” popped up out of nowhere, but these prescription drugs have been around for a while. They work by activating the receptor for the GLP-1 hormone, which is naturally produced in the small intestine.

“This hormone slows the movement of food through the stomach,” Dr. Garcia-Webb says. “It also acts on energy regulation in the brain by up-regulating energy expenditure and decreasing energy storage pathways.”

In this way, GLP-1 drugs reduce food cravings and hunger signals, which often results in weight loss.

“The most important area where these work is in the brain and an area called the hypothalamus,” says Jorge Moreno, MD, an internal medicine physician who is also board-certified in obesity medicine. “And so that's what controls appetite and helps control your food signals.”

Are there over-the-counter GLP-1 drugs (and do they work)?

Myth-busting moment: Technically, there are no actual over-the-counter GLP-1 drugs. Supplements? Yes, but in order to be considered legitimate drugs, they’d need to be classified as a medication by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). GLP-1 supplements miss the mark and are not approved by the FDA, Dr. Garcia-Webb says.

“Dietary supplements are regulated as food, not drugs, and they cannot claim to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases,” she says. “They can make claims to promote or support health, but an over-the-counter supplement could not claim to treat obesity.”

Unlike prescription drugs, supplements are not required to go through clinical trials, so you'll find that most don't have any credible research to back up their claims. The FDA also doesn't evaluate these products for safety before they're sold, and unless they're third-party verified (by a company like USP, NSF, or Consumer Lab), there's no real way to know that the supplement includes the ingredients it claims in the amount it claims.

If you ask an obesity medicine doctor whether they're even worth your time (or money!), the answer is… probably not.

“Other than regular multivitamins and standard supplements such as calcium and vitamin D, I don’t usually recommend many other supplements,” Dr. Garcia-Webb says. “And in the case of weight management, I think it is a waste of time. A much better use of time would be to see how a patient could optimize their healthy eating and exercise patterns.”

“As in many cases, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” —Meghan Garcia-Webb, MD, obesity and internal medicine doctor

Risks of GLP-1 supplements

Because GLP-1 supplements aren’t well regulated, we have to be careful with them and be critical about what’s actually inside, Dr. Moreno says. Some supplements may contain ingredients like caffeine, which can be harmful to anyone who is sensitive to stimulants or has a history of heart health issues. "So they would have to definitely discuss the ingredients with their health care provider to really know exactly what's in it," Dr. Moreno says. This goes double for people who take other medications, because it's possible for supplement ingredients to negatively interact with certain drugs.

The general risks of all supplements is that they are not held to the same safety standards as a medication.

“The FDA does not routinely test supplements for safety or efficacy. The onus is on the manufacturers and distributors to make sure the product is safe, and the FDA generally will intervene if there are concerns after a product goes to market,” Dr. Garcia-Webb says. “Specifically for GLP-1 supplements, I worry that patients are being misled about the health benefits that can be accomplished with these over-the-counter supplements.”

Alternatives to OTC GLP-1 "drugs"

Popping a once-a-day weight-loss supplement might seem like the easiest weight-loss option, but in the long run, it's not an effective (or sustainable) strategy.

“Patients often want to try supplements because they are easy to access and add into one’s routine. But in terms of weight, the more effective alternatives are the boring ones,” Dr. Garcia-Webb says. Instead of taking weight loss supplements, she suggests these alternatives:

“It sounds so simple, but it’s harder to actively change these things than it is to take a pill, so it’s not surprising that supplements are appealing,” she says. “But as in many cases, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

The best way to get a safe, reliable, and effective GLP-1 medication is through a prescription from your doctor or an obesity medicine specialist.

“It is also of utmost importance that patients purchase the FDA-approved versions of these medications and do not buy from unregulated sources, such as compounding pharmacies,” Dr. Garcia-Webb says.

The FDA notes that people should only use drugs they've gotten via prescription from a licensed health care provider, and they should only get these medications from state-licensed pharmacies or outsourcing facilities registered with the FDA.

—reviewed by Jennifer Gilbert, MD, MPH

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