It sounds so simple: Eat right and exercise, and your excess weight will come off. Yet for some people, diet and exercise alone aren’t enough. For them, the battle of the bulge isn’t a just a matter of wanting to look good in a pair of skinny jeans. The extra pounds they are carrying are causing real, significant health issues; if they don’t lose that weight, they could do serious, long-term harm to their bodies.
When lifestyle changes don’t make a measurable difference, some people who are overweight go for surgical solutions, such as gastric bypass, as a means to lose a large amount of weight. However, surgery is a major decision and brings a number of risks in addition to benefits. The good news is that, thanks to a few recent changes, some patients can lose weight quickly with the help of prescription weight loss drugs.
New, Different Solutions
We’d love to tell you that you can simply pop a pill and your extra weight will just disappear. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Today’s weight loss drugs aren’t “magic pills” that eliminate the need for a healthy diet, regular exercise and a commitment to losing weight.
How drugs help you lose weight depends on the drug your doctor prescribes. With one exception, all weight loss drugs are controlled substances that require a doctor’s prescription. Currently, there are three FDA-approved weight loss drugs on the market:
Orlistat, sold as Xenical. Orlistat is a fat inhibitor. It prevents your body from digesting and absorbing about 30 percent of the fat from the food you eat. You can buy Alli, a less potent form of the drug, over the counter.
Qsymia. Released in 2012, Qsymia is a combination of two drugs: phentermine, an appetite suppressant, with topiramate, most commonly used to treat migraines and seizure disorders. Qsymia works by increasing serotonin or catecholamine, which control mood and appetite. It does this by increasing feelings of fullness, making food taste less appealing and increasing energy, which subsequently increases calorie burn.
Belviq. Also approved in 2012, Belviq appears to work by increasing serotonin production, which helps people eat less and have more energy.
All of these drugs are most effective when combined with a healthy, low-fat diet and exercise. Again, they aren’t magic pills; in most cases, taking these drugs only increases overall weight loss up to 10 percent. That being said, even a five-percent reduction in weight can make a significant difference when it comes to lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of diabetes.
Is A Weight Loss Drug Right For You?
If you’re looking to lose the extra pounds you gained over the holiday season, you’re out of luck if you think you can get a prescription to lose the winter pudge.
Weight loss drugs are intended only for those patients who have a significant amount of weight to lose. You must be diagnosed as obese, have a BMI of 27 or higher and a serious medical condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure, for your doctor to prescribe a weight loss drug to help you get to a healthier weight. In addition, even if you meet the BMI criteria, your doctor may require that you attempt to lose weight with lifestyle changes before prescribing a drug.
This is because, as with any drug, prescription weight loss aids come with the risk of side effects. In most cases, the side effects of these drugs are mild. They include dry mouth, sleep disturbances, mood disturbances and changes in energy levels. In the case of Orlistat drugs, some patients have reported unpleasant side effects related to bowel movements, usually as the result of eating too much fat.
It’s important to note that none of the weight loss drugs available on the market today and for purchase from pharmacies are appropriate for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
A Weight Loss Tool
Only you and your doctor can determine whether a specific weight loss drug is the right choice to help you meet your weight loss goals and reduce the effects of other diseases. These medications are designed to be taken for a short period only (usually less than six months) as a means to quickly and effectively get patients closer to a healthy weight. Morbidly obese patients may find other options, such as surgery, to be more effective. Still, others may be able to meet their goals with diet and exercise. In any case, doctors are pleased to have a few new tools in their arsenal to help fight the ever-growing obesity epidemic.
Rodney Sewell owns his own medical practice in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a published author and an active journalist within the health community. Follow Rodney on Google+.