2023 Year in Review: Semaglutide, Carnivores, and More

2023 Year in Review: Semaglutide, Carnivores, and More

By Stephen Brenna, Pn1, Pn2, PPSC

2023 Year in Review: Semaglutide, Carnivores, and More 

2023 will soon be in the rearview, and that got us thinking about some of the biggest stories and trends we saw within the health and wellness space this year. We all know crazes and phases come and go within the health and fitness industry, as well as in the general population. Whether it be a "new" style of workout, diet, or supplement, each year brings us different trends or hot products on the market. 

So what stood out to us in 2023? We'll start with what likely triggered the most widespread discussion from not only an industry perspective, but from a pop culture standpoint as well.

The Rise of the Weight Loss Wonder Drugs

Let's face it, this was Ozempic's year. While the semaglutide injection was initially produced by Novo Nordisk in 2012 and gained FDA approval for the treatment of adults with type 2 diabetes back in 2017, it was the approval of the higher-dosed 2mg version in 2022 that seemed to be its major springboard into the market. 

This was also thanks in large part to its rise in popularity among Hollywood celebrities, many of whom were not diabetic but using the drug purely as a weight-loss aid. Wegovy, another brand name for the semaglutide injection, was approved in 2021 for the treatment of chronic obesity in individuals with at least one additional weight-related condition (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc).

Needless to say, the combination of celebrity influence and approval as a weight-loss treatment for non-diabetics opened the floodgates in 2023. Forbes estimates the global sales of Ozempic and Wegovy will exceed $15 billion in 2023, as Novo Nordisk (Europe's largest public company) rakes in record revenue.

While the popularity of the drugs is undeniable, the jury is still out in terms of long-term health ramifications. Many people have experienced significant weight loss, but concerns have arisen regarding potential side effects such as nausea, abdominal pain, gastroenteritis, and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). In addition, there are concerns about an increased risk of developing an eating disorder in vulnerable individuals.

It remains to be seen how long semaglutide will stay in the public eye, and what long-term impacts its use will end up having. For now, it's still a major topic of conversation in the health field.

The Artificial Sweetener Battles

This one may be a bit more niche, but the ongoing debate over non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) seemed to intensify in 2023. For the unfamiliar, there has long been a discussion in the field of nutrition over the health effects of sugar substitutes like aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol.

The discussion first took off after a study published in late February in the journal Nature Medicine suggested that erythritol, a common sweetener used in many "keto-friendly" products, may increase the risk of blood clots and stroke. Many experts (and many others who claim to be) took to social media to refute the findings of the study, citing both flaws in its design along with misleading headlines about the actual results. Currently, it remains difficult to say for sure whether high blood levels of erythritol are simply a marker of disease, or a cause of it.

The non-nutritive sweetener debate came up again in July, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released their assessments on the health impacts of the popular sweetener aspartame. Probably best known as the artificial sweetener used in Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, aspartame has long been a controversial food ingredient. It was initially denied FDA approval all the way back in 1973, over concerns that it may cause neurological conditions and brain tumors.

While aspartame was eventually approved by the FDA, questions about its safety have lingered for decades. The latest assessment from the IARC labeled aspartame as "possibly carcinogenic", which upon deeper examination actually suggests the evidence it causes malignant brain tumors is relatively sparse. At the moment, the general consensus is that consuming drinks like diet sodas is still healthier than consuming the versions loaded with real sugar.

Still, it's always fun to watch nerds and grifters fight on social media over what "toxins" we should be avoiding this week.  This debate is likely far from over.

The Carnivore Tribe

2023 was also a big year for the carnivore diet, as more people began to hop on board with this spin-off of the low-carb/keto diet. Right at the tail end of 2022, news broke exposing Brian Johnson, aka "The Liver King", as a regular user of various synthetic anabolic compounds. Up to that point, he had been one of the biggest mouthpieces for a "primal" style of living that included eating large quantities of raw animal organs.

Liver King claimed this was the key to his freakishly jacked physique. As it turns out, steroids also helped with that (crazy!). Still, the diet has continued to gain popularity, and a simple keyword search for "carnivore diet statistics" yields numerous articles that were all written just this year.

The largest study to date examining the carnivore diet was conducted by Harvard University in 2020, and its findings were published late in 2021. To briefly summarize, the researchers found the 2000+ participants surveyed had an exceptionally high level of satisfaction with the diet, and self-reported numerous improvements in their health. The key phrase here is "self-reported", as there was no real way to objectively verify many of the claims made by the participants.

This writer still has some serious concerns about the long-term ramifications of a diet that's essentially devoid of fiber, and may lack many of the antioxidant and polyphenolic compounds exclusively found in plant foods. Carnivore may be effective in the short-term as a type of elimination diet, but we really have no idea how sustainable it is.

It appears the rise of carnivore is part of a larger "anti-vegan" sentiment that gained more traction this year. As the general population is continuously bombarded with messaging that all things plant-based=healthy, the meat eaters seem to be striking back.

There you have it, the three biggest trends we saw in the health and wellness space in 2023. We're sure there's more to add, but we're a little tied up trying to figure out whether diabetes, fake sugar, or plants are going to kill us first.