For the first time in over 10 years, the FDA has approved two new weight loss pills—Belviq and Qsymia—for the U.S. market. Citing obesity as a “major public health concern,” the FDA felt a pressing need to provide doctors with a tool to combat the wide range of health risks, including heart disease, linked to excess weight. Some reports have suggested that 35% of Americans are obese, with the number expected to grow.
Both Belviq and Qsymia are prescription drugs, and can only be taken in consultation with a doctor. The FDA has approved both only for patients with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or higher, which is the classification for obesity, or for patients who are overweight (a BMI of 27 or higher) who also demonstrate at least one additional weight-related health problem, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol. Neither should be taken by women who are pregnant.
Weight loss pills are not for everyone
The FDA cautions patients and the medical community that neither of the newly approved weight loss pills should be thought of as miracle cures for obesity, and there is no guarantee taking either Belviq or Qsymia will result in weight loss. Instead, both weight loss drugs have proven to be effective only when used in conjunction with diet and exercise.
Physician-supervised weight loss programs, such as the individualized plans offered by The Center For Medical Weight Loss, have repeatedly been proven in studies to be the most effective routes to losing weight safely, effectively, and most importantly, for the long term. Though patients following these programs are sometimes prescribed appetite suppressants such as phentermine (one of the ingredients in Qsymia), the effect is negligible without the added benefits of a reduced-calorie eating plan and regular physical activity.
“We often prescribe phentermine to help control appetite as part of an overall program,” says Dr. Kaplan, founder and Chief Medical Officer of The Center For Medical Weight Loss. “For some people, it really helps.”
So are Belviq and Qsymia safe diet pills? Are they the answer to how to lose weight fast? Here’s the lowdown:
Pronounced BEL-VEEK, the diet pill was approved by the FDA in May 2012, and is expected to reach pharmacy shelves in early 2013. Manufactured by Arena Pharmeceuticals, Belviq (also known as lorcaserin) is an appetite suppressant. It works by inhibiting receptors in the brain that control feelings of hunger, and by slightly increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, to produce the same feeling of satisfaction that patients would normally get by eating. Patients who take Belviq are meant to feel fuller, quicker.
Clinical studies so far have shown only marginal average weight loss from patients taking Belviq. In one study of 8,000 overweight or obese people, 47% of people without diabetes lost at least 5% of their total body weight, while overall the average patient taking the drug lost between 3 % and 3.7% of total body weight.
Though the results are not overwhelming, they are still encouraging for many in the medical community who have witnessed first-hand the epidemic of obesity in their patients.
“Our physicians look forward to having another tool in our toolbox to help our obese patients lose and keep off weight,” says Dr. Kaplan. “Belviq/Locaserin should be a great addition to our treatment arsenal.”
Belviq was originally rejected by the FDA in 2010 due to safety concerns involving tumors developing in test animals. After reviewing further research data, however, the FDA decided that the benefits “outweigh potential risks when used long term.” Reported side effects of Belviq include migraine headaches, depression, and problems with concentration and memory. A more serious potential side effect is “serotonin syndrome,” a life-threatening condition in which the body produces a dramatic excess of serotonin, resulting in symptoms such as agitation, diarrhea, heavy sweating, fever, muscle spasms, tremors or mental health changes. Patients taking serotonin-increasing antidepressant drugs are at an increased risk for this side effect.
Pronounced kyoo-sim-EE-uh, the prescription diet drug is made by Vivus Pharmaceuticals. It combines appetite suppressant phentermine with migraine drug topiramate (also known as Topamax). As Dr. Kaplan explains, “Topiramate slows brain activity and theoretically should help with food cravings. In combination with phentermine it should lead to an increase in energy, which is exactly what you want while losing weight.” Topirate is intended to increase a feeling of fullness in patients, while also making the taste of foods less satisfying, with the ultimate result that patients eat fewer calories.
In clinical studies, Qsymia slightly out-performed Belviq. Test subjects who took Qsymia for at least one year lost 8.9% more weight than subjects taking placebos. 70% of people taking Qsymia lost at least 5% of their total body weight, and the average patient lost 11% of body weight over a year.
Like Belviq, Qsymia (then called Qnexa) was initially rejected by the FDA in 2010, due to safety concerns regarding heart palpitations, heart valve damage, and birth defects if taken by pregnant women. As part of its agreement with the FDA, Vivus will carry out further testing to determine if Qsymia increases the risk of dangerous cardiovascular side effects in some patients. Phentermine has been linked to health concerns in the past, when it was half of Fen-Phen, a diet drug that was recalled by manufacturer Wyeth in 1997 after it was linked to an alarmingly high percentage of heart valve injuries in patients. Wyeth paid out over $13 billion in lawsuit settlements to tens of thousands of patients who suffered injury from the side effects of Fen-Phen.
Because of the risk of birth defects, Qsymia can only be taken by women of child-bearing age if they are also on birth control medication. Reported side effects include tingling in the extremities, dizziness, insomnia, increased heart rate, disturbances in attention and memory, and depression and mood fluctuations.
“Qsymia, used responsibly in combination with a healthy lifestyle that includes a reduced-calorie diet and exercise, provides another treatment option for chronic weight management,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
Dr. Kaplan agrees. “I’m not convinced that Qsymia (Qnexa) alone without physician counseling will be a good solution to weight problems,” he cautions. “However, Qsymia combined with professional physician counseling could be a great option for doctors to have at their disposal to help their obese patients.”
Get more information on Qsymia here.
Other weight loss drugs
Phentermine, an amphetamine that speeds up the metabolism and causes calories to be burned faster, can be prescribed by itself for weight loss. Other brand-name diet drugs on the market include GlaxoSmithKline’s Alli and Roche’s Xenical, both of which contain the fat-blocker orlistat. The effectiveness of Orlistat has been questioned, with the average user losing only 3% of total body weight after one year. Additionally, there are many side effects linked to orlistat, from loose, oily stools to more dangerous complications such as kidney stones and damage to the liver and pancreas.
A vast array of over-the-counter diet drugs are marketed as quick-working catalysts for substantial weight loss, but many of these supplements have been criticized by doctors and the FDA for making false and even illegal claims. For instance, the popular HCG diet products, which require regular doses of female pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), have been labeled as “hazardous” by the FDA due to the concomitant near-starvation diet it requires users to follow. Get information on herbal diet pills.
How to lose weight fast without jeopardizing your health
Though the medical community has long been pushing for the availability of weight loss drugs to help stem to tide of obesity in the U.S., experts caution that drugs alone are not a “quick fix” for shedding pounds and lowering health risks. Instead, drugs like Belviq and Qsymia must be used as a complement to a thorough lifestyle modification, including healthy, reduced-calorie diets and regular exercise.
The physicians at The Center For Medical Weight Loss have helped thousands across the country reach their weight loss goals, both in the short and long term. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine reported that the average patient at the Center loses 11.1% of total body weight in just 12 weeks—results that far exceed those produced by taking diet pills alone. Furthermore, over 95% of patients maintained weight loss after one year.
Are you ready to finally get serious about losing weight and getting healthy? Check out testimonials of successful weight loss, and enter your zip code in the box above to see if there is a Center near you. Special offers are available to first-time visitors at select locations.