Weight Loss Medications
There are some weight loss drugs that have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that, when utilized as part of a comprehensive weight loss program that includes calorie-restrictive dieting and an exercise plan, can help accelerate weight loss. These medications are generally prescribed to individuals with a BMI greater than 30 and no obesity-related illnesses, or to those who do have obesity-related illnesses and a BMI that’s less than 30.
For best results, weight loss drugs should be supplemented with healthy lifestyle changes. It’s important to keep in mind that drug therapy is more of a short-term weight loss solution, as it’s difficult to maintain weight loss after you stop taking them. This is one of the reasons that users of weight loss drugs need to follow a healthy diet and exercise plan—not only will this help improve short-term weight loss results, but it can also help keep the weight off once use of the medication is discontinued.
Weight Loss Medication Types
There are two general categories of weight loss drugs. First, there are prescription drugs, which are FDA-approved medications that work to either block the body’s absorption of fat or suppress the appetite, and then there are cover-the-counter weight loss medications, most of which are considered dietary supplements. There is no credible scientific evidence that dietary supplements are effective or safe.
Just because a drug is FDA-approved doesn’t mean it can’t come with side effects. Patients who don’t experience side effects can continue taking these drugs if they’re effective; if not, then they should be discontinued.
Weight loss drugs that have been approved by the FDA can work in two ways:
- Fat blockers: Drugs like Xenical and Alli (which is a non-supplement, over-the-counter medication) prevent the gastrointestinal tract from absorbing all the fat in foods. When this happens, the fat passes through the body as oily discharge or fatty stool. For this reason, it’s recommended that people taking these drugs follow a low-fat diet. Of course, the less fat you eat, the less work a fat-blocking drug has to do to help you lose weight in the first place.
- Appetite suppressants: Drugs like Meridia and Phentermine work within the center of the brain that controls appetite. They create a feeling of fullness and can increase weight loss results by 5 to 10 percent, provided the drug is combined with diet and exercise. Like any drug, there are some side effects, including dry mouth, insomnia, and increased risk of cardiovascular problems. Phentermine, one of the drugs used in fen-phen, is the most widely used drug, but is approved only for short-term use.
Before prescribing a weight loss drug, a doctor should assess a patient’s eating and exercise habits. If it’s determined that traditional weight loss methods aren’t working for the patient, then the doctor may prescribe weight loss medication.