The Skinny on Weight Loss Medications

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • Medications As An Aid for Weight Loss

    There will be no magic pill. Medications for weight loss are meant to supplement diet and exercise and should be considered only when diet and exercise are not working. Personal consideration should always be accompanied by professional consultation when medication or the potential for medication becomes an option. For that matter, professional help should also be sought when regarding diet and exercise.

    Drugs that promote weight loss should only be taken if BMI is greater than 30 or if BMI is 27 or more but accompanied by a serious medical illness that could be improved with weight loss (Johns Hopkins White Papers, Nutrition and Weight Control, pg. 71).

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    Medications are meant to help make it easier to adhere to lifestyle changes by reducing hunger but are not meant to substitute the behavioral changes that are needed to successfully lose weight. Furthermore, medications are not effective for all obese people. Those who overeat because of stress factors or emotional factors will probably be less likely to benefit from medicinal aids than those who overeat because they are physically hungry.

    Most weight loss drugs that have been approved by the FDA are meant for short term use of only a few weeks or months. The side effects of these drugs are usually mild although unpleasant complications can sometimes present such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, constipation, insomnia, and anxiety. 

    Lipase inhibitors and noradrenergic are the two main categories of drugs that are used to treat obesity.


    Orlistat is an FDA-approved lipase inhibitor that is taken along with meals and blocks the absorption of one-third of dietary fat from the intestine. It prevents the absorption nutrients and is therefore a viable option if overeating is caused by stress or poor habits. If high-fat, high-calories foods are eaten, unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms can be expected.

    Because fat absorption is decreased when a person takes Orlistat, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K can be lost in bowel movements. It is often recommended that a daily vitamin be taken.

    Orlistat can also affect the absorption of the thyroid replacement medicine levothyroxine. If you are taking this medication, you must make you physician aware. The FDA has asked the manufacturers of Orlistat to add this information to the product label.


    These drugs increase the levels of norepinephrine in the brain. Norepinephrine reduces appetite, making noradrenergic a good option for people who experience hunger and are unable to stick to a low calorie diet.

    Noradrenergics can have serious side effects such as elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, inability to sleep, and anxiety. They can be addictive and may be dangerous for people who have heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, and glaucoma.

    Weight loss for most people who take weight loss drugs levels off after about six months, leading to a concern that any person may have developed a tolerance to the substance. It is unclear if this happens as the result of tolerance or as a result of the drug reaching its effective limit.


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    Learn more about weight loss medications in these articles: 

    Medications that Help the Binge Eater 

    Phentermine for Obesity, Weight Loss 

    Lorcaserin: The Latest Weight Loss Pill


    Learn about natural weight loss enhancers, such as Amino Acids that Aid Weight Loss and Appetite-Control Foods.

    Living life well-fed,



    Johns Hopkins White Papers, Nutrition and Weight Control

Published On: February 17, 2013