Diet Medications: Do They Work?
Medication to Lose Weight
Diet medication, meaning any FDA-approved pharmaceutical drugs to reduce obesity, is frequently the first type of weight loss treatment offered by doctors to seriously overweight or obese patients. In fact, diet pills are becoming as common as sleeping pills or antibiotics. There are two basic types of diet medication: drugs designed to reduce appetite by altering brain chemistry or metabolism, and fat-blockers (lipase-inhibitors) designed to reduce absorption of fat calories in the gut.
But do these weight loss medications work? And if you take diet drugs, is it also necessary to eat a calorie reduced diet and take exercise?
Does Diet Medication Work?
Yes and No. Clinical studies of FDA-approved diet drugs do show that, when used as part of a weight loss program which includes a calorie-controlled eating plan and regular exercise, medications can help you to lose weight. For example, obesity drugs for longer-term use like Orlistat (brand name, Xenical) and Sibutramine (brand name, Meridia) lead to a greater loss of weight than that achieved by diet and exercise alone.
How Much Extra Weight Do You Typically Lose When Using Diet Medication?
Most clinical trials of obesity drugs cover a period of 12-18 months, or less. Obese subjects who are given only dietary and exercise treatment typically lose 0-8 pounds during the course of one year. Those who take diet medication in addition to following the weight loss diet and exercise regimen, typically lose 8-15 pounds. [Note: These weight loss figures are strictly ballpark and relate only to weight reductions that are maintained.] Thus it is not uncommon for a 12-month course of obesity medication to have only limited extra effect. Whether it's worth paying $500+ for diet pills in order to lose an extra 8 pounds or so, is a personal decision.
Additional Weight Loss is Possible When Using Medication
The above weight reductions are typical of many clinical drug trials. However, if you follow the diet and exercise program exactly, there is no reason why you might not lose 80-100 pounds in one year. In any event, it's worth noting that the average dieter struggles to achieve and maintain a weight loss of more than 8 pounds over a 12-month period.
Do You Need to Eat a Reduced Calorie Diet When Taking Medication?
Yes. All successful clinical results are based on a combination of medication, diet and exercise. There are no diet medications that lead to weight reduction irrespective of calorie intake. In addition, patients who are prescribed Xenical must follow a low-fat diet, as too much undigested fat may cause diarrhea and other bowel problems.
Do You Need to Take Exercise When Taking Diet Medication?
Depending on your mobility and level of fitness, most doctors strongly advise regular exercise for all patients on diet medication.
Short Term Weight Loss Medications
Drugs approved for short term use to reduce weight (a few weeks to a few months) are appetite suppressants like Phentermine. Most patients who are prescribed this type of short term diet medication typically lose weight within a matter of weeks, or not at all. Weight reduction is typically no greater than with Xenical or Meridia, and is typically maintained for shoter periods. The use of two or more different diet medications at the same time is not recommended.
When is Diet Medication Not Recommended?
Your doctor is unlikely to prescribe obesity drugs for you if:
- You are only mildly overweight.
While prescription diet medications are manufactured, tested, labelled and monitored under the watch of the Federal Drug Administration, non-prescription weight loss pills are produced and marketed in a much less regulated way. As a result, if you want to try losing weight by taking these over-the-counter pills, be on your guard and choose only reputable brands.
Do Non-Prescription Diet Medications Work?
All manufacturers of diet supplements claim that their product causes weight loss. Some promoters even claim that their medication works without having to follow a weight loss diet or take any exercise. On the other hand, few if any of these weight loss pills have been clinically tested, so most of these claims about weight reduction remain unconfirmed.
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