The allure is all too obvious. What if you could lose weight by doing nothing more than taking a pill? Miracle cures and weight loss pills have been pedaled for years, often thinning people’s wallets rather than their waistlines.
A common misconception about drug therapy for weight loss is that it will be a “silver bullet” to shed pounds fast. Sadly, these claims don’t stack up to the reality of safely trimming excess pounds. It isn’t all sugar pills and quack remedies out there, though. Real weight loss drugs are on the market, and it is possible to benefit from them if they are used properly. These medications can be dangerous, and the only safe way to use them is under the supervision of a healthcare professional such as a physician or dietitian.
The only sure way to maintain weight loss goals over the long haul is to lose weight steadily and slowly, changing your diet, habits, and lifestyle along the way. Promises of short-term weight loss can be tantalizing, but attempts to cut weight quickly often come at the cost of your overall health. This is true of diet plans, diet medications, and even bariatric surgeries or procedures; healthy weight management is more than a quick fix.
A life-long weight management plan is going to involve lifestyle changes you can stick with long after you have met your initial weight loss goals. There are many tools out there to get you to your forever figure, though, and medication might be part of that solution. Knowing whether drug therapy is a part of the overall picture for you is something we can help you discover at NEW You Weight Loss.
Who is a Candidate for Weight-loss Drugs?
Not everyone is a candidate for weight loss drugs. Prescription medications for weight loss are serious drugs with potentially dangerous side effects. For this reason, these drugs are not a solution if you are just looking to shed a few pounds quickly. Typically, you need to have a very high body mass index (BMI) or have other health conditions that make it unlikely you will be able to achieve your weight loss goals with diet and exercise alone.
Doctors usually only consider prescribing weight loss drugs to people who have a BMI of 30 or higher. If you have type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure it is possible your doctor may consider drugs an option at a BMI of 27. Your doctor may also consider adding drug therapy to your weight loss program if you are already experiencing health problems related to your weight.
Even if your doctor does prescribe drugs to help you lose weight, they are not a miracle cure. Nothing will substitute for the benefit of exercise and improvements to what you eat and drink. In some cases, drugs can help curb the cravings that fill your diet and your body with unhealthy foods. If you are successful in curbing these cravings, you will still need to establish a diet that can provide you with the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
What are the Side Effects of Weight Loss Drugs?
Having a high BMI does not automatically mean you are a good candidate for weight loss drugs. Even if you are in a risk category that makes your doctor think weight loss drugs might be right for you, there is a chance that complications and side effects could arise.
Some of these side effects are serious enough that even if you are losing weight while taking them, drugs may not be a safe option. This is particularly true if you have a history of addiction, past or present cardiovascular disease, glaucoma or other vision problems, or if you currently are or could become pregnant.
The side effects of weight loss drugs can be wide ranging and potentially quite severe. Some common side effects are merely inconvenient and potentially embarrassing. These include abdominal cramping, dry mouth, or feeling gassy. Moving toward the more serious end of the spectrum, drugs such as phentermine are known to cause insomnia if taken late at night. Since getting good sleep is key to helping your body regulate stress hormones and metabolic processes, taking a weight loss drug that ends up interrupting your sleep would be counter-productive.
Drug dependence is also a possible risk. If you have a history of substance abuse or addiction, you could be at an increased risk of becoming dependent on some weight loss medications. In these cases, you will need to work with your doctor to see if drug therapy is even an option for you.
Drug dependency is harmful, but even more serious side effects are possible from taking weight loss drugs. Increased heart rate, suicidal thoughts or even actions, vision problems, and even the permanent loss of sight are all possible. Increased risk of stroke, heart attack, or other cardiovascular disease are also known side effects of some weight loss medications. If you have already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, your healthcare provider will take this into account when deciding whether a prescription medication for weight loss is an option for you.
Caution needs to be exercised with weight loss drugs if you are pregnant or could possibly become pregnant. Serious side effects of weight loss medications can include birth defects. Qysmia in particular is a drug identified with a higher risk of birth defects such as cleft palate.
Given the severity of potential side effects associated with many weight loss drugs, you should never begin taking any of these prescription medications without careful consultation with a medical professional first. Even if you have talked to your doctor ahead of time, it is important to stay in close contact with your healthcare provider the entire time you are undergoing drug therapy for weight loss. Side effects may develop down the road, so keeping in regular contact with your doctor is critical to staying healthy.
How Long Does Drug Therapy Last?
The length of time you can be on drug therapy for weight loss will depend on the type of drug you are taking. Some, such as orlistat, have been approved for long-term use. Others, such as the appetite suppressant phentermine, are for short-term use and can only be taken for short periods spanning a matter of weeks.
Even for medications not approved for long-term use, it may take some time to know which drug will be effective for you. For some drugs, you will need a trial period of several weeks or a few months to determine if it is working. If you have not lost a target percentage of your body weight during the trial period, your doctor will likely change your medication to something that will likely work better for you.
There are some situations where long-term use of medication can be appropriate, but in the majority of cases, helping you establish a weight management plan without the need of medication will be the goal.
What Drugs are Approved in the U.S. for Weight Loss?
Like any class of drugs, there are several types of weight loss medication on the market. Below is a list of some of the most common medications and their brand names that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Adipex-P, Ionamin, Pro-Fast (phentermine)
- Alli, Xenical (orlistat)
- Contrave (naltrexone-bupropion)
- Saxenda (liraglutide)
- Qsymia (phentermine-topiramate)
Not all drugs are created equal, and these medications work in a variety of ways to help promote weight loss. The drug most likely to work for you will depend on the particular challenges you may face in maintaining a lower weight.
Drugs like orlistat work by blocking your body’s ability to absorb fat in the food you eat. There can be side effects from taking this drug, including abdominal cramping and gassiness. To help mitigate these effects, and to help the drug do its job, you will need to lower your overall level of dietary fat to less than 30% of your caloric intake.
Other drugs like Contrave work along different lines entirely. Rather than blocking your ability to absorb nutrients from the food you eat, these drugs work by suppressing your brain’s messages telling you to eat in the first place. Contrave is a combination of naltrexone, which is used to treat addictions to alcohol and opioids, and the antidepressant bupropion. By blocking the neurological pathways associated with dependence and depression, which can trigger unhealthy eating patterns, you can stave off potential weight gain by eating less and eating healthier.
The phentermine used in Contrave can be combined with the migraine drug topiramate to create a drug called Qsyima. This medication works in several different ways. In addition to helping you feel full, it can help your body burn more calories and make the taste of food less appealing.
Can Medications Replace Exercise and Healthy Eating Habits as a Way to Lose Weight?
The short answer is no, drugs alone cannot replace the benefits of lifestyle changes. No pill is ever going to replace the physical and mental benefits you get by exercising and eating right. Developing new habits in your diet and routine are not easy for any of us, and they can be even harder if you face significant obstacles. If you have suffered an injury that prevents you from exercising, or are suffering from cardiovascular conditions that make strenuous workouts dangerous, you may need to get creative about finding solutions to keeping the pounds off.
Medical opinion may differ about many things, but there is agreement across the board that eating a diet higher in nutritious vegetables, fruits, and other natural ingredients will help your body regulate itself more effectively no matter what other challenges you may face on the road to your weight loss goals. Looking into whether weight loss drugs can provide additional benefits on top of this foundation is a better plan than hoping the pills will do the trick.
Get Help Losing Weight
Dropping pounds quickly will do you very little good if you can’t keep them off. Changing your lifestyle to include healthier food and more activity are the cornerstones of lasting weight loss. It is possible weight loss medication may be able to help you achieve your health goals, but they will never be a substitute for changing your lifestyle and habits. In addition to this, due to their potential side effects, not everyone is a candidate for weight loss drugs.
Medical nutrition therapy is emerging as a trusted process to help you make the dietary and lifestyle changes you need to make to find your forever figure in a safe and healthy manner. At NEW You Weight Loss, our board-certified physicians will help you build and stick to a plan that can put you on a path to achieving your goals and help you make the changes you need to make in order to keep those pounds off after you have lost them.
When you are making big changes in your life, it is good to have people in your corner. At NEW You Weight Loss, we are here to help you with the experience and knowledge it takes to start you down the path to finding your forever figure. With our Medical Nutrition Therapy, we now have an even more powerful way to be there for you every step of the way once you get started. Request a consultation today to see if medical nutrition therapy is right for you.