Magic Pill by Johann Hari, review: the truth about Ozempic

If you type the names of the weight-loss drugs Wegovy or Ozempic into a search engine, sponsored links dominate the page. “Starts from £149 – UK regulated and approved”, says the first to pop-up on my laptop. “Free next-day UK delivery,” promises a second. You have to start scrolling to find any information that isn’t paid for, let alone trustworthy.From the beginning, the promotion of these synthetic GPL-1 hormones for weight loss has been a triumph of marketing over science. 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. His introduction – the cliché of a chi-chi party where everyone is secretly on Ozempic and as thin as a stick – didn’t help, nor did the fact that there are no pictures of Hari online showing him to be especially large. Could this really be the same man who tells us he was virtually mainlining fried chicken; someone who could scoff three takeaways of a night? “You’re not being honest with yourself, “ a friend tells him angrily. “And if you write [a book] like this, then you won’t be honest with your readers either.”This echoed my early thoughts, not least because Hari has a less-than-stellar reputation on Fleet Street where, a decade ago, he sparked a storm after plagiarising and fabricating quotes. But Magic Pill, it turns out, is good. Like so many who start to research our relationship with food for the first time, Hari is blown away by what he finds, and honest enough to recount it unadorned. Light-bulb moments include his realisation that no one actually knows how the new GLP-1 antagonists work to suppress appetite, making their side effects much less predictable than one might imagine.In fact, drawing on evidence that has only recently started emerging – and still has a long way to go – Hari outlines 12 risks associated with the new drugs, which go beyond the most common side-effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and constipation. 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. Oh, and after they quit, within 12 months most people regain two-thirds of the weight they’ve shed.

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