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Using Medication for Weight Loss?

Is It Okay to Use Medication for Weight Loss? 

Are you struggling with health problems from being overweight? Regular exercise and eating a well-balanced, reduced-calorie diet are key to weight loss. However, this is not enough for some people. This article will discuss weight loss using medication. 

In addition to (not instead of) exercise and diet, weight loss medications can provide much-needed support in realizing your goals. They are not magic pills but can be potential game-changers in your weight loss journey. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) reports that taking prescription medication for weight loss could help you lose up to 12% more body weight than people who only rely on exercise and diet. [1] 

If you are interested in using medication for weight loss, read on to learn the types of drugs available, how they work, and whether it’s okay for you to use them. 

Types of Weight Loss Medication

Generally, there are two types of weight loss medicines available to people with obesity: approved prescription medication and over-the-counter supplements.

Over-the-counter supplements include diet pills that typically contain minerals, vitamins, and other bioactive ingredients that can help people lose weight. The National Institute of Health maintains a database of some common supplements that may help support your weight loss efforts. [2]

In this article, we’ll focus on prescription medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for short-term and long-term weight loss. They include:

  1. Semaglutide: Semaglutide is an FDA-approved injection-only treatment for chronic weight management that is sold under the brand name Wegovy®. [3] In a 2021 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers found that taking semaglutide once weekly along with lifestyle interventions helped participants lose almost 15% body weight. [4]
  2. Phentermine-Topiramate: Phentermine-Topiramate is commonly prescribed under the brand name Qsymia®. Findings from a 2022 study published in NEJM Evidence suggest that Phentermine-Topiramate offers a “statistically significant” reduction in body-mass index (BMI) in adolescents with obesity. [5] The weight loss medication also had a positive effect on the levels of triglycerides and HDL “good” cholesterol. The drug confers similar weight loss benefits in adults, as shown in a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis. [6]
  3. Liraglutide: Liraglutide (or Saxenda®) is prescribed to people over the age of 12 and has been shown to be an effective medication for weight loss. One 2022 study concluded that participants “achieved a significant weight loss, irrespective of the maximally tolerated maintenance dose” of liraglutide. [7]
  4. Naltrexone-Bupropion (Contrave®): Contrave is a medication that combines two ingredients, bupropion and naltrexone, to promote weight loss. It’s been shown to be effective in reducing body weight, even in individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. [8] While there are some safety concerns surrounding the weight loss medication, experts believe naltrexone-bupropion is well-tolerated and safe for use over the long term. [9]
  5. Orlistat: This weight loss medication is sold under the brand name Xenical®. You can also buy orlistat without a prescription under the brand name Alli®. One 2018 review notes that orlistat is an effective weight management medication for people with obesity. [10] It may also reduce the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
  6. Phentermine: Phentermine is a prescription-only weight loss pill that belongs to a class of drugs known as anorectics. It promotes weight loss by suppressing your appetite, hence limiting your calorie intake. Several clinical studies show that phentermine can be an effective way to support meaningful weight loss. [11] The medication may also help with binge-eating disorder. [12]

In addition to these five weight loss medications, the FDA has also approved benzphetamine, diethylpropion, and phendimetrazine for the short-term management of obesity.

How Do Medications for Weight Loss Work?

Weight management medication work in different ways. The mechanism of action depends on the drug in question. The typical mechanisms include:

  • Reducing the amount of nutrients (e.g., fat) that are absorbed in your gut.
  • Regulating your appetite and food intake. The drugs may make you feel full sooner or less hungry.
  • Increasing calorie/fat burning.

For example, semaglutide works by mimicking a hormone known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). GLP-1 is secreted in the gut and sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “I’m full.” According to a 2018 study published in The Lancet, semaglutide “was well tolerated over 52 weeks and showed clinically relevant weight loss.” [13]

Phentermine helps curb your appetite. It leaves you with little desire to overeat or reach for “seconds’—thereby limiting the calories you take. Research suggests that phentermine may be a safe and effective long-term weight management treatment. [14]

Another class of weight loss medication, such as orlistat, has been shown to be effective and safe for weight loss by limiting the amount of fat your body absorbs from food—reducing the number of calories you take in. [15]

When combined with behavioral changes—including increased physical activity and healthy eating—weight management medications can help support sustainable weight loss.

Who Can Use Weight Loss Medication?

Prescription weight-loss drugs can be a useful addition to your weight-loss journey. But they’re typically available to people who meet certain criteria. According to the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, your healthcare provider may prescribe weight loss medication if: [16]

  • You have difficulty losing enough weight through exercise, behavioral changes, and diet alone.
  • Your body mass index (BMI) is above 30. Not sure of your BMI? Check out this nifty BMI calculator by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). [17]
  • You are experiencing health issues related to being overweight such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, and have a BMI of more than 27.

In addition to the above criteria, a healthcare provider should consider your medical history before prescribing a medication. This includes pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, any known allergies, and details of other drugs you may be using (including natural and herbal supplements).

Certain groups of people are warned against using weight loss drugs, including pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, children, and teenagers.

So, Is it Okay to Use Medication for Weight Loss?

If you meet the criteria mentioned above, yes! It may be okay to use weight management medications for weight loss. Several studies suggest that these drugs are effective and safe for use.

However, keep in mind that weight loss medications are only meant to support healthy lifestyle choices. They can result in significant weight loss when used alongside exercise and diet.

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  1. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK):
  2. NIH:
  3. FDA:
  4. Wilding, J. P., Batterham, R. L., Calanna, S., Davies, M., Van Gaal, L. F., Lingvay, I., … & Kushner, R. F. (2021). Once-weekly semaglutide in adults with overweight or obesity. New England Journal of Medicine.
  5. Kelly, A. S., Bensignor, M. O., Hsia, D. S., Shoemaker, A. H., Shih, W., Peterson, C., & Varghese, S. T. (2022). Phentermine/Topiramate for the Treatment of Adolescent Obesity. NEJM Evidence1(6), EVIDoa2200014.
  6. Lei, X. G., Ruan, J. Q., Lai, C., Sun, Z., & Yang, X. (2021). Efficacy and Safety of Phentermine/Topiramate in Adults with Overweight or Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis. Obesity29(6), 985-994.
  7. Trenson, L., Trenson, S., van Nes, F., Moyson, C., Lannoo, M., Deleus, E., … & Vangoitsenhoven, R. (2022). Liraglutide for Weight Management in the Real World: Significant Weight Loss Even if the Maximal Daily Dose Is Not Achieved. Obesity Facts15(1), 83-89.
  8. Wharton, S., Yin, P., Burrows, M., Gould, E., Blavignac, J., Christensen, R. A., … & Barakat, M. (2021). Extended-release naltrexone/bupropion is safe and effective among subjects with type 2 diabetes already taking incretin agents: a post-hoc analysis of the LIGHT trial. International Journal of Obesity45(8), 1687-1695.
  9. Bello, N. T. (2019). Update on drug safety evaluation of naltrexone/bupropion for the treatment of obesity. Expert opinion on drug safety18(7), 549-552.
  10. Qi, X. (2018). Review of the clinical effect of orlistat. In IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering (Vol. 301, No. 1, p. 012063). IOP Publishing.
  11. Lewis, K. H., Fischer, H., Ard, J., Barton, L., Bessesen, D. H., Daley, M. F., … & Arterburn, D. E. (2019). Safety and effectiveness of longer‐term phentermine use: clinical outcomes from an electronic health record cohort. Obesity27(4), 591-602.
  12. Guerdjikova, A. I., Williams, S., Blom, T. J., Mori, N., & McElroy, S. L. (2018). Combination Phentermine–Topiramate Extended Release for the Treatment of Binge Eating Disorder: An Open-Label, Prospective Study. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience15(5-6), 17.
  13. Safer, D. L., Adler, S., Dalai, S. S., Bentley, J. P., Toyama, H., Pajarito, S., & Najarian, T. (2020). A randomized, placebo‐controlled crossover trial of phentermine‐topiramate ER in patients with binge‐eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 53(2), 266-277.
  14. O’Neil, P. M., Birkenfeld, A. L., McGowan, B., Mosenzon, O., Pedersen, S. D., Wharton, S., … & Wilding, J. P. (2018). Efficacy and safety of semaglutide compared with liraglutide and placebo for weight loss in patients with obesity: a randomised, double-blind, placebo and active controlled, dose-ranging, phase 2 trial. The Lancet392(10148), 637-649.
  15. Lewis, K. H., Fischer, H., Ard, J., Barton, L., Bessesen, D. H., Daley, M. F., … & Arterburn, D. E. (2019). Safety and effectiveness of longer‐term phentermine use: clinical outcomes from an electronic health record cohort. Obesity27(4), 591-602.
  16. Kwon, Y. J., Kwon, G. E., Lee, H. S., Choi, M. H., & Lee, J. W. (2022). The Effect of Orlistat on Sterol Metabolism in Obese Patients. Frontiers in Endocrinology13.
  17. Jensen, M. D., Ryan, D. H., Apovian, C. M., Ard, J. D., Comuzzie, A. G., Donato, K. A., … & Yanovski, S. Z. (2014). 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society. Journal of the American college of cardiology63(25 Part B), 2985-3023.
  18. CDC:


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