What You Should Know about Weight-loss Drugs

13 February, 2020
Weight-loss drugs aren’t a solution to obesity. However, they can help patients make the necessary lifestyle changes to prevent further weight gain. Nevertheless, none of these drugs have proven to be more effective than a combination of diet and exercise.
 

There are lots of myths and misinformation regarding weight-loss drugs. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry has popularized various substances that promise to help people lose weight but aren’t effective or may be harmful to health. After all, weight-loss drugs are just that: drugs. Therefore, they can only be prescribed by a doctor who has evaluated and determined whether they’re suitable for a specific case, depending on many factors.

Also, we should note that weight-loss drugs aren’t a magic solution. Losing weight is a complex process that requires effort on many fronts. While a drug can help, it’s of little use if the patient doesn’t complement it with a proper diet and exercise.

Weight-loss drugs

An overweight person at a doctor's apppointment.
A medical evaluation is essential in the weight-loss process, especially if the patient will resort to drugs.

The first thing we need to say is that doctors never prescribe weight-loss drugs for aesthetic purposes. Second, none of these drugs have proven more effective than a systematic and controlled diet and exercise regime.

That being said, we should note that many of these drugs act on the central nervous system, inhibiting complex hypothalamic circuits that regulate hunger and satiety. In other words, they help you feel less hungry. On the other hand, other drugs with diuretic or laxative effects help accelerate metabolism. Also, you can find so-called “fat-burners” on the market, which are sold in supermarkets or drugstores and aren’t backed by any scientific evidence.

 

Read: 5 Healthy and Balanced Breakfast Options To Help You With Weight Loss

A patient profile

Weight loss drugs aren’t suitable for everyone. First, pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn’t use them. Also, experts don’t recommend them for underage children. Under no circumstances should they be taken without medical advice.

Medical professionals indicate such drugs when patients meet the following criteria:

  • They were diagnosed with obesity. A doctor has classified the patient as obese because their weight is 20% higher than the ideal weight according to their height and build. Generally, this means a BMI, or body mass index, of 30 or greater.
  • They have a lower BMI but also have a concomitant disease. There are cases when the BMI doesn’t reach 30 but is over 27 and the patient has problems such as diabetes, sleep apnea, or hypertension. In this case, it’s sometimes appropriate for them to be prescribed with these drugs.

However, it should be noted that drugs are never the first choice of treatment. Medical professionals only prescribe them if the patient has followed a diet and exercise regimen for a period of three to six months and wasn’t able to lose more than 5% of their weight during that time. Also, the person must be motivated and committed to losing weight using all means necessary.

The side effects of weight-loss drugs

A woman with a stomachache.
 

Like any other drug, weight loss drugs also have side effects that vary depending on each person. Most commonly, mild symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, and/or nausea occur, which tend to decrease with time.

Some drugs, such as phentermine, benzphetamine, diethylpropion, and phendimetrazine, can cause difficulty sleeping, nervousness, or restlessness, as well as headaches and a rise in blood pressure. Only in very few cases have other side effects been reported from the use of these drugs, which include:

  • Yellow pigmentation in the eyes and/or skin
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stools
  • Itchy skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite

Find out more: 9 Things You Can Do to Return to Your Ideal Weight

Precautions of weight-loss drugs

It’s important to note that some of the products that are sold in drugstores and are promoted as weight-loss substances are unsafe because they’re not backed by science. Therefore, they’re over-the-counter. Some of these products, especially those that contain ephedra, ephedrine, or caffeine, have been linked to reports of seizures, heart attacks, strokes, and sudden death. Therefore, it’s advisable to consult your doctor before taking them.

Prescribed weight-loss drugs lose their effect when the patient stops taking them. Therefore, without a diet and proper lifestyle, it’s highly likely that these patients will gain weight when they stop taking these drugs. That’s why patients must maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine at all times to support permanent weight loss.

 

Verónica, Á. V. (2012). Tratamiento farmacológico de la obesidad. Revista Médica Clínica Las Condes, 23(2), 173-179.