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Weight Loss Pills - Weight Loss Guide

Updated: Apr 23, 2022






There are many approaches to weight loss like exercise, dietary measures, supplements, and even pills. Pills could be of natural and synthetic origins. Here we look more specifically at the pharmacological options for weight management. To further look into the subject, first, we need to understand what obesity is. It is not merely a person living with overweight. Instead, for decades, researchers have viewed it as a behavioral disorder in which a person consumes more calories than needed, leading to obesity.



Additionally, for decades medical science has viewed obesity as a risk factor for various disorders such as heart attack, brain disorders, cancer, mood disorders, and many other health issues in obese individuals. However, in recent years, the attitude towards obesity in the medical world has changed. The new concept is to visualize obesity as a disease and treat the condition accordingly. American Medical Association (AMA) is the first professional body to recognize obesity as a disease.



Since then, lots have changed, and doctors globally have started taking obesity more seriously and as a disease. Thus, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia has also come up with obesity management guidelines. It has even proposed a framework called "5A"; ask and assess, advise, assist, arrange. So, one thing is clear if we need to prevent obesity-related disorders, we need to change our understanding of obesity. It is not merely a behavioral issue or risk factor for other ailments. Obesity is itself a kind of disorder that must be treated through lifestyle interventions and even medications or weight loss pills.



Understanding obesity

Weight loss pills are perfect for obese individuals. However, not every overweight person is obese, and neither all people with average weight are metabolically healthy. In western nations like the EU, US, and Australia, almost 70% of people are overweight. But not all are candidates for treatment with weight loss pills. In fact, most of them are overweight but not obese. Nevertheless, about 30% of the population is obese.



One of the most reliable ways to understand or measure obesity and its severity is BMI (body mass index). It can be readily calculated by knowing a person's body weight and height. One can also use online BMI calculators to know the BMI. People living with BMI between 18 to 25 are of average body weight, and those living between 25 to 29.9 are overweight. However, all those living above 30 are obese, and those living above BMI 40 are grossly overweight, needing urgent medical treatment. However, BMI is not a perfect way to understand the conditions. For example, many sportspeople like bodybuilders or weight lifters have high body weight and BMI. Thus, it is also essential to calculate a waist-to-hip ratio. In addition, some people may be moderately overweight, but they may be living with large tummy or abdominal obesity.



Thus, as per WHO, if women have a waist-to-hip ratio of more than 0.85, and for men 0.9 or more, it indicates obesity. Therefore, it would be safe to say that a ratio above 1 for both sexes should be regarded as abdominal or central obesity. Another issue that must be taken into consideration is ethnicity. For example, South Asians and some other ethnic minorities are prone to metabolic disorders. Thus, some ethnic groups may develop metabolic diseases even when moderately overweight. Therefore, it must be kept in mind when treating obesity with weight loss pills. Another critical thing to keep in mind when considering using weight loss pills is the presence of comorbidities. For example, those living with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, and mood disorders are likely to benefit more from weight loss pills. Needless to say that generally, weight loss pills are reserved for those struggling to control body weight through other means. Thus, it is more beneficial for those finding it difficult to stick to a diet or cannot exercise regularly.



How do weight loss pills work?

Weight loss pills are pretty complex and work in many ways. These are pharmacological drugs with varying modes of action. Many of these drugs work by altering food-seeking behavior and suppressing appetite. They may work on the brain and even on the peripheral nervous system. Some even suppress appetite due to their effect on the digestive system. Other medications may work by reducing the absorption of calories from the gut. For example, they might reduce the absorption of fats, carbs, and much more. Few of them may also work by boosting metabolic rate, and it is especially true for stimulants. However, these agents stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and thus stimulate most body functions.



Can children take weight loss pills?

Fortunately, obesity is relatively less common in children or adolescents. For example, in Australia, about one-fourth of adults are overweight. However, data suggests that about 8% of children are obese, which is a considerable number. Additionally, the prevalence of obesity differs in various population groups. Thus, about 11% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are obese. Most weight loss pills are safe for adults but not essential for children. These pills are generally tested in an adult population. Thus, it would be correct to say that most weight loss pills are not for children. Nevertheless, some pills are approved for adolescents, like orlistat and liraglutide.



Benefits of using weight loss pills

First and foremost, it is essential to understand that weight loss pills are not a replacement for physical activity or dietary measures. Instead, recommendations say that most of these pills work better when combined with lifestyle interventions like nutritional measures and exercise. The truth is that these pills are only moderately effective without lifestyle interventions. They might work for the initial few weeks, and however, after that, they stop helping in most cases. Nevertheless, they are suitable for prolonged use and weight loss when used along with lifestyle interventions. Undoubtedly, weight loss pills have some distinct advantages, and however, one of the most significant advantages is increased weight loss. Studies show that those who use these medications and lifestyle interventions can lose 3% to 12% more body weight than those who do not.



Another beneficial effect of weight loss pills is that they are simple to use. As a result, many people may use them without any other intervention because taking medicine is the simplest way to lose body weight. This is unlike other interventions requiring much effort. Further, many weight loss pills are good for metabolic health. Thus, they help lower blood sugar and blood pressure, manage bad cholesterol levels, improve heart health, reduce joint pain, and even manage sleep apnea. However, it is worth understanding that there is a particular concern regarding the use of weight loss pills. Experts warn not to use weight loss pills to improve their looks and only use them to improve metabolic health. Additionally, there are many unapproved weight loss pills. Never use such unapproved medications. These weight loss pills may work, but their ill health effects outnumber their benefits.



Thus, if you plan to use any weight loss pills, consult a specialist and only buy pills from approved pharmacies. It is also good to learn more about the possible benefits and health risks associated with any pill. Additionally, never use any pill during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. These can have an ill effect on a child's health. Another common question people ask is, how can I know if weight loss pills are working? It is quite a difficult question. Nevertheless, most experts agree that if any pill does not help after about 3 months of regular use, it will not help. Of course, there could be many reasons for the failure of the medication. Generally, doctors can only find the real reason behind drug failure. In some cases, medications may fail as a person using a weight loss pill may not make any other lifestyle changes. If you have not done any lifestyle changes, try making some changes before making any conclusion. Moreover, those who do not make any lifestyle changes are more likely to gain weight after initial weight loss.



What weight loss pills are available?

Below, we look at some doctors' most commonly prescribed weight loss pills. In recent years, tens of drugs have been approved. However, these drugs work in different ways, and thus doctors may prescribe a pill or even a combination of pills. Orlistat or Xenical is one of the popular weight loss pills. It reduces the amount of fat the body can absorb, thus creating energy deficiency and helping with weight loss. However, it may also cause side effects like diarrhea, gas, and stomach aches and is generally not good for the liver. Another good option is Qsymia (phentermine and topiramate). It is a combination drug and among the most effective weight loss pills available, and it is a prescription drug.



Phentermine is a stimulant that acts on the sympathetic nervous system and reduces appetite. On the other hand, topiramate acts on the brain and thus alters food-seeking behavior. Therefore the final effect of using the medication is decreased appetite. A person taking this pill feels fuller sooner. There are some known side effects of Qsymia like constipation, abdominal pain, dizziness, dry mouth, changes in taste, trouble sleeping, tingling sensation in hands and feet, and much more. Liraglutide or Saxenda is another drug commonly used to manage obesity. It is an antidiabetic drug. Many pills used to treat diabetes work as they have a beneficial effect on metabolism. It mimics the hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and thus influences appetite and has widespread metabolic effects. There is another weight loss pill similar to liraglutide called semaglutide that also is good for weight loss.



Both liraglutide and semaglutide are relatively safe for prolonged use and even lifelong use. Nonetheless, they might cause side effects like gastrointestinal issues, abdominal pain, fatigue, and headaches. Many other medications may alter appetite and thus help with weight loss. Some other weight loss pills are phentermine, benzphetamine, diethylpropion, and phendimetrazine. It is vital to note that this is not a complete list of weight loss pills, and there are many so-called off-label weight loss pills. These medications may not be explicitly approved for managing obesity, but doctors may prescribe them in certain situations.



Take an example of metformin, a common antidiabetic drug that may help well if a person is living with insulin resistance, PCOS, prediabetes, and obesity. Similarly, doctors may also use other pills like antidepressants to manage mood disorders and thus alter food-seeking behavior and control appetite. However, doctors may also suggest weight loss surgery if a person does not respond to any interventions like weight loss pills or lifestyle interventions and continues to gain weight. Generally, BMI higher than 40 is a reason to consider weight loss surgery.



Final thoughts

Reducing body weight is quite challenging. After all, long-embedded habits are challenging to modify. Therefore, people fail in any weight loss effort mainly because they fail to make any significant lifestyle changes. Thus, weight loss pills should not be seen as some magic formula and rather a weight loss aid that works best when combined with other interventions like dietary changes and exercise. Nonetheless, using the pill is pretty straightforward, and it can help significantly by suppressing appetite and altering energy metabolism. In addition, studies show that using weight loss pills may considerably improve the result of other weight-loss interventions. Another good thing about weight loss pills is that they are good for reducing body weight and suitable for improving metabolic health. As a result, these pills may help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related health issues.

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