Weight loss is a very common concern in the United States, which has given rise to an industry of medications that promise to help you achieve just that. Some require a prescription, while others can be found over-the-counter. A number of these aren’t even technically medications, but supplements. However, something about them seems off to you.
Maybe you’ve heard a story about someone getting sick or seen warning labels that made you uneasy. If you are at the point where you’ve tried everything to lose weight, you’re probably wondering “Can weight loss drugs be healthy and safe?”
After having a conversation with your doctor, they may decide to prescribe you a weight loss drug. Currently, there are about six prescription drugs that are FDA-approved for weight loss, including the recently approved Wegovy and others being researched. Prescriptions are usually given if your BMI is 30 or over or if you have a serious medical condition.
Each medication works slightly different. Wegovy is injected under the skin once a week and mimics a hormone that signals to the brain that you’re full. Over half of the participants in a study had a weight loss of 15 to 20 percent of their bodyweight over 68 weeks, with many experiencing at least a five percent loss. Most prescription weight loss drugs are within the five to 10 percent bodyweight loss over the course of a year.
These drugs have been approved by the FDA, meaning the benefits of the drug outweigh the known or potential risks it may present. While you can read that as the drugs being generally safe to use, it does mean they may have side effects. Serious side effects are rare and vary from prescription to prescription, so it’s worth exploring deeper if you are interested in one specifically. The more common side effects of diet drugs are mostly gastrointestinal, ranging from nausea to loose stools or diarrhea and fecal urgency. Others may also experience elevated blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, or restlessness.
Prescription medications aren’t the only diet or weight loss drugs available. There are many that are available over-the-counter, both in the form of a medication or a supplement. The most common over-the-counter diet drug is Alli, a form of Xenical that lowers fat absorption in the intestines. It’s approved by the FDA with common side effects including appetite loss, light-colored stool, itching, or yellow eyes or skin.
As mentioned, there are also diet supplements on the market. The issue with supplements and drugs is that the difference isn’t always apparent. Unlike drugs, the FDA isn’t authorized to review supplements for safety or effectiveness. The supplement companies also aren’t required to test or prove either factor. There are many diet supplements out there, but the most have mixed research into their effectiveness. At the same time, they also have side effects similar to prescription weight loss drugs with some severe side effects like increased risk of cardiovascular and liver issues.
Before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle, including taking any new medications, please see your doctor. They know your health best.
Beyond that, we suggest trying to lose weight through other means — making healthy diet and lifestyle changes — before or alongside trying a medication. This has the added benefit of improving your overall health. While weight can be a convenient shorthand for health, it’s not always the most accurate sign. Whether that’s lifestyle changes or a prescription medication, what’s important is that your strategy is correct for your health.
Finally, it’s our belief that you should avoid weight loss supplements, unless your doctor suggests them. With the lack of oversight or proven benefits, coupled with the potential side effects, there doesn’t appear to be enough of an upside to make the risks worth it. We simply wouldn’t feel comfortable supporting their use without a doctor’s support.
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If you’ve tried everything to lose weight, we understand that it can be incredibly frustrating. Weight loss drugs or supplements can be a useful tool to help you to lose weight, but one that you should only try with your doctor’s guidance. Between you and your doctor, you can find the best course to improve or maintain your health.