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Weight Loss Medications: Are They Effective?

Keeping your weight in check is one of the vital measures to improve your quality of life. However, it is not an easy thing to do as it comes with its own share of challenges.

Written by Liposet Staff

Updated on

Weight Loss MedicationsHealthy Lifestyle Image/Shutterstock

Keeping your weight in check is one of the vital measures to improve your quality of life.

However, it is not an easy thing to do as it comes with its own share of challenges.

There are prescription drugs for weight loss but for such medication to work effectively, fitness experts and healthcare professionals recommend combining it with a healthy diet and exercise.

So, if you are an adult struggling with overweight or obesity and you have tried other weight loss methods without success, then weight loss medication could be the right option for you.

Some of these weight loss drugs work by suppressing your appetite and enabling you to experience satiety for extended periods of time while others affect your body’s fat absorption approach.

Wight loss drugs are intended to be used alongside exercise programs and reduced calorie intake for weight loss optimization.

Many people have been able to cut significant pounds with weight loss drugs.

However, the question is, are they really effective? Read on to find out.

Which Medications Are FDA Approved for Weight Loss?

Managing weight is common knowledge if you want to keep healthy especially as you age.

Statistics show that obesity is one of the major contributing factors to various health problems including stroke, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

In 2017, about 42 percent of U.S. adults were diagnosed with obesity with a medical estimation cost of about $2,000 every year compared to adults without obesity.

Individuals with body mass index (BMI) over 30 are considered to be obese while those with BMI or weight and height or body mass index between 25 and 30 are considered overweight.

Healthcare professionals may prescribe weight loss medication for such individuals or those with health problems associated with weight such as high cholesterol, blood pressure, or diabetes.

The U.S. Food Drug and Administration (FDA) has approved a number of weight loss drugs for long-term use.

Some of these drugs include:

Orlistat

Orlistat is available without a prescription and the fact that it requires one to follow a low-fat diet when taking it makes it an ideal drug for weight loss.

It works by blocking enzymes responsible for breaking down fats taken in through food by preventing dietary fat absorption.

The undigested fat is passed through the body, hence reducing weight gain.

A review shared in the Evidence-Based Nursing Journal highlights that Orlistat was first made available to the public 10 years ago before it became a prescription-free treatment for obesity.

Phentermine-topiramate

Phentermine-topiramate is a mixture of phentermine (a weight-loss drug) and topiramate (an anticonvulsant), the oldest and the most utilized weight-loss drug.

Phentermine was initially approved for short-term use to jump-tart weight loss.

However, recent medical guidelines have listed it among the long-term therapies, a direction that is evidently shared in a publication in the Peer-Reviewed Journal for Managed Cure and Hospital Formulary Management. This weight loss medication is available on prescription.

This drug has been associated with side effects such as high blood pressure and heart rate, constipation, insomnia, and nervousness.

Semaglutide

Semaflutide is designed to control type II diabetes but taken as a weekly shot can help manage obesity.

The drug leads to side effects such as nausea and vomiting, headache, tiredness, belly pain, and diarrhea.

Dulaglutide

Dulaglutide GLP-1 receptor agonist was approved in 2021 by the FDA.

It works by imitating intestinal hormones responsible for stimulating insulin production, reducing appetite, and providing a satiety feeling.

The drug was originally approved to treat type 2 diabetes but some people take it to help them lose weight.

It is administered by means of injection and approved for use by obese adult patients and children aged 12 years and above struggling with overweight and overweight medical conditions.

Tirzepatide (Zepvound, Mounjaro)

Tirzepatide is a drug approved to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity in adults with 30 BMI or above.

The drug I administered through injection works by suppressing appetite and is usually combined with a healthy diet and exercise to cut weight.

Setmelanotide

Setmelanotide is FDA approved drug for adults and children aged 6 years and above with chronic weight or obesity as a result of one of the following inherited genetic disorders:

  • Pro-opiomelanocortin deficiency
  • Leptin receptor deficiency and
  • Proprotein subtilisin-kexin type 1 deficiency

Note that the drug does not treat the gene problems leading to these conditions.

However, it helps individuals with any of these conditions lose weight by reducing appetite and making them feel fuller for extended periods of time.

It can also help the body to burn fat while in resting mode.

One must have gone through genetic testing to ascertain that he or she has any of these conditions in order to use the medication.

Liraglutide (Saxenda)

Liraglutide is a weight loss medication administered through injection. It is designed to act on hormones from the gut to send signals to the brain to provide a satiety feeling and decrease hunger strikes.

With higher doses of liraglutide, the patient can lose body weight 5-10%. A review in the Medicina Journal by Mariana Cornelia Tilinca et al., suggests that this drug is considered safe as a weight loss solution.

Hydrogel (Plenity)

Hydrogel is a weight loss medication in the form of a device approved by the FDA in 2019 targeting people with a body mass index between 24-40.

The device is packed with capsules that release a biodegradable, super-absorbent hydrogel into the stomach to provide a satiety feeling and make the person eat less.

In real-world studies, one can lose weight by up to 9% with this medication.

Ozempic

Ozenmpic as a drug is not approved for weight loss but it contains active components like semaglutide which is FDA-approved due to its efficiency in slowing down the stomach emptying process, which in turn reduces appetite.

When combined with a healthy diet and exercise, the drug can help promote weight loss and also decrease other health risks including cardiovascular, diabetes, and cancer in overweight or obese patients, explains Christopher McGowan, M.D., a gastroenterologist specializing in obesity medicine and endo bariatrics, and founder of True You Weight Loss in North Carolina.

Though Semaglutide may help in weight loss, it is only effective when you are on the medication.

Once you stop using it, there are high chance that you will regain weight.

So, this means that stopping the use of Ozempic completely may lead to regaining the weight you had lost within months, says Rekha, B. Kumar MD., head of Medical Affairs at an evidence-based weight care program found, and practicing endocrinologist at an academic medical center in New York City.

How Effective Are Weight Loss Medications?

There are quite a number of weight loss drugs in the market today available with a prescription.

Healthcare professionals have been providing prescriptions for obese and overweight patients.

However, some people if not most are still optimistic about this option of losing weight.

So, how effective are weight loss drugs?

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine investigated the efficiency of Semaglutide injection on weight loss.

The results of the study show that non-diabetic individuals who took the injection weekly experienced a higher weight loss percentage (about 15% average decrease) compared to a placebo group.

Another study was also conducted to test the efficacy of Melformin as published in Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The results of the study indicate that metformin can significantly impact weight by lowering body mass index in obese patients.

According to research published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine, Setmelanotide is able to promote weight loss in patients with genetic obesity disorders through its ability to control appetite, thereby leading to a reduction in food intake and weight gain.

How Quickly Do Weight Loss Medications Work?

People have different weight loss concerns, which means their weight loss journey will likely vary.

Because of this, weight loss medications may work differently for people.

So, how long it may take for a weight loss prescription drug to work will depend on factors like weight loss target, and side effects among other things.

However, as noted in a good number of clinical trials, it takes about 2 months or so of weight loss medication to be able to experience significant weight loss results.

Depending on the condition, a healthcare professional may recommend long-term use of a specific medication for some people, especially if a drug is working well with minimal or no side effects.

Some users may be advised to stop using the drug if they don’t lose a given amount of weight after 12 weeks and switch to a different medication that will work for them.

Some weight loss medications work effectively if combined with a healthy diet and exercise. So, depending on which medication your healthcare provider will prescribe, you might be required to make changes to your lifestyle like increasing fiber and protein intake and also getting enough sleep.

Side Effects of Medication for Weight Loss

Like any other medication, there is a possibility of the user experiencing side effects with weight loss drugs. As it is with injectable, most injectable weight loss drugs may cause broad side effects like redness, swelling, or other discomfort in the injected area.

However, regardless of the drug delivery method, the side effects profiles of most of these drugs are similar.

The most common side effects associated with the above weight loss medication include:

  • Constipation or stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Increased heart rate

Note that these side effects may also vary depending on an individual user.

Some of the effects may be moderate to severe for some users while others may only experience mild side effects.

If you notice severe side effects, you should stop using the drug and reach out to your healthcare provider for further support.

He or she may give you an alternative medication with mild side effects.

The Verdict on Weight Loss Medication

Being overweight is no longer a lifestyle condition but a serious health concern that requires more that takes more than dieting and exercising to manage it.

Obesity is a serious health concern affecting a good number of the American population comprising both children and adults.

While exercising and following a healthy diet are recommended for healthy weight loss, these two methods have no effect on those with severe obesity or overweight.

Such individuals require weight loss medication to be able to manage their condition.

Fortunately, today we have a number of FDA-approved weight loss medications available on prescription.

If you are struggling with being overweight, it is time you visit a healthcare provider to prescribe a suitable weight loss medication that will effectively aid you in your weight loss journey.

These weight loss drugs do not work for everybody.

What might work for you might not do the same for the other person.

So, you need to work with a healthcare professional so that together you can work on finding a suitable medication that will adequately work to meet your weight loss and fitness goals.

Sources:

  1. Over-the-counter weight loss with orlistat? https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20584843/
  2. Phentermine/Topiramate Extended-Release Capsules (Qsymia) for Weight Loss https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3814438/
  3. Trulicity (Dulaglutide): A New GLP-1 Receptor Agonist Once-Weekly Subcutaneous Injection Approved for the Treatment of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4665063/
  4. A 2021 Update on the Use of Liraglutide in the Modern Treatment of ‘Diabesity’: A Narrative Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8307742/
  5. Once-Weekly Semaglutide in Adults with Overweight or Obesity https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33567185/
  6. Effects of metformin in obesity treatment in different populations: a meta-analysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7243386/
  7. Effectiveness of metformin on weight loss in non-diabetic individuals with obesity https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23147210/
  8. Efficacy and Safety of Setmelanotide, a Melanocortin-4 Receptor Agonist, for Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10608339/

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