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The Difference Between Zepbound and Ozempic, and How They Work

The active ingredients in these popular type 2 diabetes treatments are being used to treat a wide range of health conditions. Here's what sets them apart.

By Lily Carey; Medically Reviewed by Dr. Ahmad Talha Azam
May 2, 2024 6:00 PM
Pen injection of semaglutide named “ozempic”, is a diabetes medicine to improve blood sugar
(Credit: fcm82/Shutterstock)


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In the latest wave of popular weight-loss treatments, several types of drugs commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes have been making headlines. 

Ozempic, Wegovy, Zepbound, and other diabetes medications aim to target different types of glucose receptors in the body, which helps to lower blood sugar in diabetes patients. Yet you may be more familiar with them for a different reason — these drugs can also help curb patients’ appetites by binding to these same receptors.  

This discovery has unlocked an entirely new range of uses for this family of drugs. Ozempic, in particular, has seen a major surge in popularity among celebrities and on social media, and the scientific community has largely affirmed these outcomes

Though they’re changing the game in weight-loss treatment, this family of drugs is still subject to many misconceptions among scientists and in popular culture. Despite its immense popularity, Ozempic still hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat obesity.

And while they’re used for many of the same purposes, Ozempic and Zepbound differ in a few key ways. Here’s what to know about these two distinct drugs, and how they’re being used to treat a variety of conditions.  

How Do Ozempic and Zepbound Work?  

Though Ozempic and Zepbound are different types, they both serve as GLP-1 agonists. These drugs mimic the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) hormone, which is produced in the small intestine after a meal.   

“The interesting thing about the compound (GLP-1) is it seems to have effects across diverse systems in the body,” says Warren Bickel, a behavioral pharmacologist at Virginia Tech. 

One of the functions GLP-1 serves is to stimulate natural insulin production, and to inhibit glucose production, which makes these drugs effective at lowering blood sugar in people with diabetes. 

Yet, as Bickel notes, GLP-1 has impacts that extend beyond the gastrointestinal system. Many patients reported noticing a decrease in appetite while using GLP-1 agonist drugs. These medications can prolong sensations of fullness by slowing the emptying of the stomach, Bickel says, making them extremely effective for treating obesity.  

Higher levels of GLP-1 in the system can also elevate what Bickel calls central nervous system effects, which “[impact] the part of the brain that tells us what's rewarding.”  

By altering how the brain processes rewards and produces dopamine, these types of medications have been shown to help limit addictive behaviors, such as overeating.

Read More: What Factors Matter Most For Weight Loss?

The Difference Between Ozempic and Zepbound 

The main active ingredient in Ozempic and its sister drug, Wegovy, is semaglutide, which serves as a GLP-1 agonist. While Ozempic has received arguably the most buzz on social media for its weight-loss benefits, it’s not FDA-approved for us as a weight-loss medication.   

Wegovy, however, received FDA approval in March 2024. It’s intended to be used to treat adults who are obese or overweight and have cardiovascular disease, promoting weight loss and decreasing risk for heart attack and stroke. 

Meanwhile, Zepbound, which was FDA-approved in November 2023 as a weight-loss treatment, contains a different active ingredient called tirzepatide. Unlike semaglutide, tirzepatide serves as a dual agonist for both GLP-1 and another type of hormone, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptides (GIP).   

GIP is another important hormone that impacts how the body breaks down sugar and fat. What's more, studies show that dual agonists like tirzepatide are actually more effective at promoting weight loss than drugs like semaglutide that solely target GLP-1 receptors. 

Read More: Beyond Weight Loss and Diabetes, Ozempic Could Help Certain Heart Conditions

Are These Drugs Safe to Use?  

While both Zepbound and Ozempic come with some side effects, including nausea and gastrointestinal issues, Bickel says GLP-1 agonists have a history of use for a variety of purposes. 

“These medications, in different forms, have been around for a long time,” he says. "The adverse effects on general aspects of health, although they exist in some cases that might have unique susceptibility to some diseases of the pancreas and other related conditions — it doesn't seem like that's very frequently encountered in the general population.”  

And while Ozempic isn’t FDA-approved as a weight-loss treatment, some healthcare providers still prescribe it for those purposes due to its documented success in treating obesity in clinical trials. 

Read More: These 10 Weight Loss Drugs Like Ozempic Can Work, but Are They Safe?

Weight Loss Drugs and Addiction Treatment

Most recently, Bickel and his team at Virginia Tech’s Fralin Biomedical Research Institute have been studying the potential for GLP-1 agonists to treat alcohol use disorder in addition to obesity. Bickel analyzed thousands of posts from users of GLP-1 agonists on social media and found that nearly 72% of them reported drinking less and having decreased alcohol cravings, results which were published in Scientific Reports in 2023.

The same two major effects of these drugs that make them so effective for weight loss — slowed stomach emptying and central nervous system effects — can also help curb alcohol consumption, Bickel says. When the stomach empties slower, substances like alcohol take longer to impact the system, preventing the instant gratification that makes them alluring. And by regulating users’ desire for rewards, they can help regulate addictive behaviors. 

There’s still a long road ahead for those seeking to use Zepbound, Ozempic, and other GLP-1 and GIP agonists for a wider range of treatments. Yet for experts like Bickel, the potential for this family of drugs to treat such a variety of conditions is extremely promising.  

“It's a pretty remarkable compound, and it seems to have broader and broader effects,” he says. 

Read More: Could Ozempic Be the Next Breakthrough in Addiction Treatment?

This article is not offering medical advice and should be used for informational purposes only.

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Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:

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