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The Best Weight Loss Medications

Weight-related health problems, especially for people who are severly overweight or obese, are some of the most common worldwide. Despite being the best option, diet and exercise aren’t always enough to help someone reach their goal weight. As a result, some doctors may recommend the use of weight loss drugs. 

This guide discusses the benefits and drawbacks of taking different medications, when you should take them, how they work, and which options are available. Continue reading to learn more about which solutions are best for reaching your ideal weight!

What Do Weight Loss Medications Consist Of?

Weight loss drugs act in different ways to achieve a physiological response that leads to fat loss. These supplements and medications may work by:

  • Decreasing your appetite
  • Speeding up your metabolism
  • Mobilizing stored fat so it can be burned off
  • Controlling anxiety
  • Preventing or eliminating fluid retention
  • Preventing fat absorption in your intestines

It all depends on the type of medication. You and your doctor will decide which drug is right for you. These programs should always be accompanied by an appropriate weight-loss diet and daily exercise routine.

Do Weight Loss Pills Work?

Some approved medications are supported by scientific research that has evaluated their long-term benefits in a specific group of overweight or obese patients. However, not all medications work for everyone, and not all are beneficial to your health

Keep in mind: Be careful with over-the-counter weight loss pills that are marketed as “miracle drugs.” While some may work in the short-term, all of them come with potentially harmful side effects. This is why you should always consult a doctor and follow their instructions before taking any over-the-counter or prescribed weight loss drug. 

Consistency is key when it comes to weight loss. Diet, exercise, and medication must all be used regularly and responsibly in order to lose weight safely. Not following your doctor’s instructions can be dangerous and detrimental to your health, preventing you from meeting your goals. 

When Should I Take Weight Loss Pills?

To determine if you’re eligible for weight loss medication, Mayo Clinic states that you must meet the following requirements: 

  • You’ve been unable to lose enough body fat with diet and exercise alone
  • Your body mass index (BMI) is over 27 and you’re suffering from obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes
  • Your BMI is higher than 30

Keep in mind: Your doctor will evaluate your overall health and the options for starting treatment with these medications so as to not negatively impact your well-being. People who are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant should not take weight loss medication. 

Pros and Cons of Weight Loss Medications 

Below is a list of advantages and disadvantages of taking weight loss medications.

Advantages

  • Increase the amount of fat burned
  • Decrease your appetite
  • Complement diet and exercise to achieve better results
  • May increase motivation to lose weight 
  • Help fight obesity-related problems
  • Inhibit fat absorption
  • Accelerate the overall weight loss process

Disadvantages

  • Over-the-counter weight loss medications can carry high risks that compromise your health
  • FDA-approved medications rarely have severe side effects, as long as you and your doctor have chosen the right medication
  • The most common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and constipation, though they tend to subside over time
  • If you don’t change your habits or adopt a healthier lifestyle, you’ll probably gain the weight back once you stop taking the medication
  • Some medications can be expensive
  • The treatment period can be long and difficult
  • Some unapproved medications can cause side effects like insomnia, constipation, dry mouth, nausea, headaches, and more

The Five Most Popular Weight Loss Medications

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Currently there are only five medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They have been tested for long-term use to achieve optimal results. The following is a list of the approved medications:

Saxenda (Liraglutida)

This medication is ideal for treating obesity and weight management as long as it’s used in conjunction with a low-calorie diet and daily physical activity. Saxenda was approved by the FDA in 2014 for patients ages 30 and up. Recently the FDA has updated this approval due to proven benefits in children over 12.

How it works

Liraglutide, Saxenda’s active ingredient, works in the part of your brain that regulates appetite. A decreased appetite makes it easier to eat less food, leading to weight loss.

Side effects

Some of the most common side effects include diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. More severe side effects include: 

  • Gastritis
  • Dehydration
  • Gallbladder inflammation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Allergic reactions
  • Acute renal failure, and more

Warnings 

  • Saxenda isn’t recommended for those who are allergic to liraglutide or any other component of the medication
  • Do not use Saxenda if you’re pregnant, nursing, or planning to become pregnant 
  • Not recommended for patients with severe heart failure
  • Efficacy hasn’t been tested in children under 12

Contrave (Naltrexone/Bupropion)

This is a combination of two medications: naltrexone and bupropion (an antidepressant). This medication is prescribed for weight loss as well as preventing patients from gaining it back. Contrave is always used in combination with diet and exercise.

How it works

Both drugs target the main areas of the brain to reduce appetite and regulate cravings.

Side effects

Like all medications, Contrave has potential side effects. Consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Redness
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in tastes
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Localized tremors

Warnings 

You shouldn’t use Contrave if you: 

  • Have an eating disorder
  • Have a history of seizures
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant
  • Are addicted to opioids or going through withdrawal
  • Are taking another medication with bupropion
  • Have recently taken a sedative or anticonvulsant
  • Are under 18

Qsymia (Fentermine/Topiramate)

Qsymia is another combination of medications. It includes phentermine, which is used for weight loss and topiramate, an anticonvulsant. Qsymia is one of the most highly recommended weight loss drugs. Studies showed that patients who took Qsymia lost up to 6.7% of their body weight with the lowest dose and 8.9% with the highest dose. 

How it works

Fentermine decreases appetite and topiramate causes a feeling of fullness that lasts much longer after every meal.

Side effects

See your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Hair loss
  • Heartburn
  • Painful urination
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble concentrating, speaking, or remembering things
  • Unusual thirst
  • Headaches

Warnings 

Never take this medication without consulting your doctor first. Do not take Qsymia if you have: 

  • Glaucoma
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Liver problems
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Bone deficiency
  • If you’re allergic to any of its components
  • If you’re under 18

Xenical (Orlistat)

Orlistat is this drug’s active component. It’s used to help overweight or obese patients decrease their body fat. 

How it works

Xenical works directly in your gastrointestinal tract by inhibiting some fat-absorbing enzymes. As a result, your intestine doesn’t absorb all the fat you ingest. The fat is then excreted through bowel movements. 

Side effects

Potential side effects that one in ten patients experience on Xenical are:

  • Flu
  • Cold
  • Gas
  • Stomachaches
  • Diarrhea
  • The urge to use the bathroom
  • Headaches
  • Low blood sugar levels

Warnings 

Do not use Xenical if:

  • You’re allergic to orlistat or any of its components 
  • You have a liver disorder
  • You’re nursing
  • You have malabsorption syndrome
  • Pregnant patients should exercise caution 
  • Xenical is not recommended for people under 18

Wegovy (Semaglutide)

Last but not least, Wegovy is the most recently FDA-approved medication. Wegovy is an injection that is indicated for use along with a low-calorie diet and daily exercise. It’s approved for patients with obesity-related problems and at least one related illness. 

How it works

This medication mimics the hormone peptide-1 to regulate both your appetite and daily food intake. 

Side effects

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood sugar
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues

Keep in mind: These and other side effects can be avoided when the medication is taken correctly and continuously. 

Warnings 

Do not use Wegovy if you have:

Where can I find these medications?

With the exception of 60 mg of orlistat, which is available over the counter, all the medications above must be prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider. Getting a prescription for these medications is advisable due to their potential side effects and other health warnings. 

Four Natural Weight Loss Supplements

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There are thousands of natural supplements on the market that can help with weight loss.  Keep in mind that these supplements may have side effects that can be dangerous. All weight loss should be based on diet and daily exercise before using any supplements. Below are four natural weight loss supplements:   

Chitosan

This natural supplement is derived from shellfish (specifically the skeleton fibers). Chitosan has been shown to decrease intestinal fat absorption and increase the feeling of fullness. This results in lowered cholesterol and food intake.

It’s not recommended for children under 12; those who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are nursing; or for anyone allergic to shellfish or any other ingredient in the medication. 

Keep in mind: Since concentrations may vary, a healthcare provider will determine the appropriate dosage. The most common side effects are gas, nausea, constipation, and vitamin absorption deficiency. 

Glucomannan

Extracted from the medicinal plant Konjac, glucomannan is a fiber that’s commonly eaten in China and Japan. You can buy it in capsules or powders at health food stores and pharmacies. Its weight loss benefits include decreased appetite, better digestion and regular bowel movements, lower cholesterol, and more.

Glucommanan is not recommended for those who are pregnant or nursing, children, or people with esophageal obstruction. When not taken with enough water, side effects may include constipation.

One capsule typically contains 500mg of glucomannan. The recommended dosage is three capsules per day, with a maximum of four capsules. Make sure to take glucomannan with enough water (two glasses), ideally at least 40 minutes before a meal. 

Green tea

Everyone knows about green tea in its liquid form. You can also buy green tea capsules at a pharmacy or health food store. Green tea can speed up your metabolism, improve digestion, and decrease fluid retention. All of these benefits may result in weight loss.

Side effects are rare. Excess consumption may cause insomnia, nausea, irritability, heartburn, increased heart rate and, in rare cases, liver toxicity. If you suffer from insomnia, thyroid, kidney, or digestive problems, anemia, or are pregnant or nursing, we recommend avoiding green tea.

Take one capsule two to three times a day, 30 minutes after eating. If you prefer, you can drink two to four cups of tea throughout the day. 

Lycium fruit

Berries that come from the lycium plant are called goji berries. They come in capsules that you can take daily. This low-calorie superfood has plenty of weight loss benefits, including a high fiber content that helps you feel full and vitamins that boost your metabolism.

People who suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, or blood clotting problems shouldn’t take this supplement. This is because it can interact negatively with some medications that are used to treat these conditions. It can also cause problems if you’re taking antibiotics, hormone regulating medications, or other medications. 

Side effects are very rare, though the most severe is an allergic reaction. The recommended dosage is two to three capsules a day depending on the concentration.

Other Healthy Weight Loss Habits

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Aside from dieting, doing simple exercises at home, and taking the medications mentioned above, you can also develop healthy habits that will help you lose weight. Experts recommend the following:

  1. Keep healthy, nutrient-dense food on hand
  2. Never eat directly from package or container, always use a plate or bowl
  3. If you use large plates, try using smaller ones to control portion size
  4. Avoid foods that tempt you to cheat on your diet
  5. Read nutritional labels and familiarize yourself with the ingredients in your food
  6. Drink enough water
  7. Seek the help of a professional
  8. Eat at a moderate pace and avoid distractions while doing so
  9. Don't skip meals and try to stick to a schedule
  10. Start your day with a healthy breakfast
  11. Plan your meals ahead of time instead of waiting until the last minute
  12. Measure your fat loss
  13. Choose low-calorie snacks that are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals
  14. Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than three big meals

Are weight loss pills dangerous?

Approved medications have a high degree of effectiveness. That said, there are many warnings and side effects that could be harmful to your health. Therefore, these drugs should always be prescribed under strict medical supervision so treatment can be stopped if complications arise.

The problem with natural supplements is that their formulas and exact ingredients are not regulated. They also tend to cause severe side effects in some people. Always consult your doctor and follow their recommendations before taking any supplement. 

Medication Can Help You Lose Weight

Weight loss can be a difficult process for people who suffer from weight-related illnesses. As a result, sometimes reaching your goal weight can involve incorporating the right medication taken under a doctor’s care along with diet and exercise.

Recognizing how certain drugs work can help you understand what you’re taking and why your doctor prescribed it. It also makes you more aware of warning signs and potential side effects. At PODERsalud, we offer a SEP+ membership that provides flexible, on-demand care from board-certified medical professionals at affordable prices. 

For this and more, remember: SABEResPODER!