Ozempic and insulin are two injectable medications used to lower blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes. However, while these two antidiabetic drugs share the same purpose, they have different mechanisms of action.
So, what are the differences between Ozempic and insulin? Is one better than the other? Can you take both simultaneously?
Is Ozempic Insulin?
While Ozempic and insulin are both subcutaneous injection medicines used to treat high blood sugars in people with diabetes, they’re not the same drug.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a natural hormone produced by the pancreas for the body to use blood sugar for energy. When the body can’t produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or becomes resistant to insulin (type 2 diabetes), insulin therapy is sometimes necessary.
Pharmaceutical insulin injection is a common treatment for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Like naturally produced insulin, insulin injections help move the sugar from the bloodstream into the cells that use it immediately as a source of energy or store it for later use.
There are more than 20 different types of insulin. While basal, long-acting insulins such as Lantus, Trebisa, Basaglar, Levemir, Humulin-N, and Novolin-N NPH insulins work on fasting blood sugars between meals and overnight, bolus, short-acting ones like Novolin-R, Humulin-R, Fiasp, Humalog, Admelog, Novolog, and Apidra work on after-meal glycemia.
Related article: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Insulin Pens for Injection.
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is the brand name of semaglutide. It’s an FDA-approved antidiabetic injection medicineused to treat diabetes in adults with type 2 diabetes.
Like insulin, Ozempic helps lower blood sugar levels, but the mechanisms of action are different. Ozempic works similarly to Mounjaro, Trulicity, Victoza, and Byetta . They all belong to the class of GLP-1 agonist drugs (glucagon-like peptide-1) that lower after-meals blood sugars by stimulating the body’s natural secretion of insulin.
Semaglutide is also sometimes prescribed as an anti-obesity medication for long-term weight management under the brand names Wegovy and Rybelsus.
Ozempic is usually administered once weekly as a subcutaneous injection. It’s manufactured by Novo Nordisk and available in auto-injector pens.
Related article: How to Use an Ozempic Pen?
What are the differences between Ozempic and insulin?
Ozempic and insulin share the same goal: lowering blood sugars in people with diabetes. However, the two antidiabetic medicines differ in many ways, including their active ingredients, mechanisms of action, target patients, frequency of administration, side effects, and others.
Whether you should take insulin, Ozempic, or both simultaneously is a question that can only be answered by your diabetes healthcare team. It depends on many factors, including your type of diabetes, weight, body mass index (BMI), lifestyle, HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin), and others.
Different mechanisms of action
The most significant difference between insulin and Ozempic is their mechanism of action. While insulin moves sugars from the blood to the cells, Ozempic boosts the natural release of insulin.
People with type 1 diabetes whose bodies can't produce insulin at all can only be treated with insulin. Ozempic cannot treat type 1 diabetes or diabetic ketoacidosis (lack of insulin, a severe diabetes complication).
On the other hand, Ozempic can be very helpful in managing type 2 diabetes, where the body is still capable of producing its own insulin but has become more resistant to it. It’s often used along with metformin (an oral antidiabetic medication that improves the body's response to insulin) or insulin itself.
As said above, Ozempic belongs to the class of GPL-1 agonist drugs like Trulicity, Victoza, and other diabetes injections. It mimics the action of a naturally occurring hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 produced in the small intestine.
These drugs stimulate the body’s secretion of insulin after one eats carbohydrate and their blood sugars start to rise and inhibit the secretion of glucagon, preventing more glucose from going into the bloodstream). GLP-1 drugs also increase the feeling of satiety and may help with weight loss management.
Related article: Wegovy vs. Ozempic, Comparing Two Semaglutide Injections.
Different frequencies of administration
Ozempic is taken weekly, whereas insulin must be injected daily and sometimes several times daily.
Ozempic is administered on the same day every week with or without meals at any time of the day.
Basal insulin is usually administered once a day (sometimes twice) at the same time. On the other hand, bolus insulin targeting after-meal blood sugars (postprandial glycemia) must be administered every time a patient ingests carbohydrates or sugars (mainly type 1 diabetics).
Related article: 10 Tips That Work for Injecting Insulin Without Pain!
Different side effects
Another difference between Ozempic and insulin is their list of potential side effects, which also has to be considered while deciding with your doctor what diabetes treatment would be best for you. Ozempic and insulin share some common side effects but also come with specific ones.
Both Ozempic and insulin can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and associated symptoms like weakness, lack of energy, shaking, rapid breathing, hunger, irritability, sweating, etc.
Severe hypoglycemia mainly occurs with insulin and more rarely with Ozempic.
Ozempic may also cause the following side effects that are not common with insulin therapy: nausea, diarrhea, stomach or abdominal pain, constipation, and vomiting.
Like with any medicine, talk to your doctor about any side effect that bothers you and doesn’t go away after a few days of taking Ozempic or insulin.
Does Ozempic help with insulin resistance?
A frequently asked question about the relationship between Ozempic and insulin is whether Ozempic helps with insulin resistance. Let’s first make sure we all understand what insulin resistance is.
What is insulin resistance?
According to the American Diabetes Association, insulin resistance or impaired insulin sensitivity is when people have “built up a tolerance to insulin, making the hormone less effective.” As a result, more insulin is needed to lower the same amount of blood sugar.
A common misconception about insulin resistance is that it only affects people with pre-diabetes. But it’s now clear that people with type 2 diabetes and even type 1 diabetes can also suffer from insulin resistance.
There are no specific medications for insulin resistance, but losing weight, being physically active, or taking insulin-sensitizing diabetes medications like metformin may help reduce your body’s resistance to insulin.
Related article: 10 Simple Ways to Increase your Insulin Sensitivy!
Ozempic and insulin resistance
As said above, no medications are specifically approved to treat insulin resistance. But, while decreasing insulin resistance isn’t the official use of Ozempic, it may be a welcome and positive side effect of using this diabetes medication.
Evidence from the SUSTAIN (Semaglutide Unabated Sustainability in Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes) 1-3 clinical trials, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, showed that Ozempic helped decrease insulin resistance in type 2 diabetic patients.
Can you take Ozempic and Insulin together?
Yes, you can take Ozempic and insulin together. Ozempic can be used along with other diabetes medications, including metformin and insulin.
Be aware that taking Ozempic and insulin simultaneously increases the risks of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Never substitute or modify your diabetes treatment without your doctor’s advice.
Are you taking Ozempic, insulin, or both? Please share your experiences with diabetes medications in the comment section below!