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Feb 20, 2014

Safety Concerns About Prescription Weight Loss Pills

Experts are concerned about the safety of two weight loss pills recently approved for use in the United States.

America has a weight problem but pills aren’t the answer, according to a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In this special communication, experts Steven Woloshin, MD, MS and Lisa Schwartz, MD, MS from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice reviewed two weight loss drugs recently approved for use in the United States. These two drugs, lorcaserin hydrochloride and phentermine-topiramate, were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 for long-term weight loss based on thorough trials testing their safety and efficacy. Still, experts are worried about the potentially serious side effects of both drugs.

In a yearlong study, these drugs helped overweight and obese patients lose anywhere from 3–7% of their body weight—a big accomplishment for adults who struggled with their weight for many years. However, both pills used in this study were not without risks. Based on study findings, both drug labels now include warnings about memory, attention or language problems, as well as depression and other serious side effects. These complications were so concerning to international review boards that neither medication has been approved for use in Europe and experts say that future approval in Europe is very unlikely.

So where do we go from here regarding use of these new weight loss pills in the U.S.? Since both drugs have been approved by the FDA, doctors can prescribe them for patients struggling with weight loss. However, Woloshin and Schwartz say that physicians and patients should use caution when taking these weight loss pills. There are serious side effects associated with both drugs and unfortunately, additional trials to ensure their long-term safety are running behind schedule. So it’s important that patients work closely with their doctors to follow instructions and take proper precautions when taking either drug.

Further research is needed to understand the long-term impact of these weight loss drugs and patients should be well-aware of both the risks and benefits before using them. As with all drugs, weight loss pills carry certain risks and use of these drugs should not be taken lightly. And as authors state, it’s still slim pickings when it comes to finding a “magic” pill that’s both safe and effective for weight loss.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the best way to lose weight?

  • Weight loss boils down to a simple formula: burn more energy each day than you take in from food. A deficit of 3500 calories will net one pound of fat loss. Therefore, if you cut down your food intake by just 100 calories a day, you can expect to lose 10 pounds by the end of the year.

    Although it’s tempting to look for a quick fix with a speedy weight loss scheme, many popular diets are unhealthy or produce only temporary results. You’ll have better luck with an eating plan that includes a variety of healthful foods and gives you enough calories and nutrients to meet your body’s needs. Taking it slow by making ongoing eating and exercise changes is the best way to reach and maintain your optimal weight.
  • Can weight loss improve my health?

  • Even a relatively modest weight loss of 5 to 10% of your body weight can produce health benefits such as lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and improved cholesterol levels. In addition, weight loss has been shown to help people with asthma have fewer attacks and use less medicine, and improve the quality of sleep in people with obstructive sleep apnea.


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