We’ve all seen the ads, either on the TV, while playing games on our phones or scrolling through social media. Amazing pills that melt away the fat overnight so you, too, can lose weight and wear size zero clothes! But do drugs that make you lose weight actually work?

When it comes to those 15-second ads where people eat gummies and then hold up the huge pair of pants they used to wear, probably not. Many act as diuretics that help you lose water weight fast, but don’t really offer any long-term solutions. Others have increased levels of stimulants that could cause adverse reactions in some.

There are no quick fixes or shortcuts when it comes to losing weight. We all know that eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly is the key to achieving and maintaining an ideal body weight. But when it comes to drugs, supplements, and other products claiming to help you shed those stubborn extra pounds, things get a bit more complicated.

Drugs That Make You Lose Weight: How Effective Are They?

The truth is that many of these “miracle” solutions don’t actually work at all, or worse – they can be downright dangerous! However, there are some medications that can be prescribed by your doctor that have shown some success, although long-term data is scarce.

Many pharmaceuticals prescribed for weight loss act as appetite suppressants. These medications decrease feelings of hunger, which may help people to eat less and lose weight. Some will affect how your body absorbs what you eat, decreasing the amount of fat that stays in your system.

And there are proven results. The Mayo Clinic states that some drugs that make you lose weight can cut 3-12 percent of your total body weight. That can make a huge difference for someone that is morbidly obese. These drugs are typically prescribed for individuals who are obese–a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more or have weight-related health conditions.

Unfortunately, many of these drugs also carry serious risks. For instance, some can cause increased blood pressure or heart palpitations, while others have been linked to depression and other mental health issues. And these drugs must be taken daily (or weekly in some cases) to remain effective.

We should also make one thing very clear: It’s crucial to understand that relying solely on weight-loss drugs without making lifestyle changes is unlikely to lead to long-term weight loss. Sustainable weight management involves a holistic approach that addresses multiple factors affecting weight, including diet, exercise, behavior modification, and overall lifestyle habits.

Always consult with a health care professional or a qualified medical practitioner before considering any prescription weight loss medications to understand the potential benefits, risks, and suitability for your specific circumstances. They can provide personalized advice and guidance based on your individual needs and health profile.

Pros and Cons of Drugs That Make You Lose Weight

There are a handful of FDA-approved weight loss medications on the market, all of which require a prescription from your doctor. Here is a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

  • Bupropion-naltrexone
  • Liraglutide
  • Orlistat
  • Phentermine-topiramate
  • Semaglutide
  • Setmelanotide

Commonly known by the brand name Contrave, bupropion-naltrexone is a medication prescribed for controlling weight gain. In studies, it has helped with weight loss by reducing appetite and food cravings. But it can have side effects, too, including nausea, headache, constipation, dizziness, insomnia, and dry mouth.

Some individuals may experience more severe side effects, such as increased blood pressure or mood changes. Bupropion-naltrexone is not suitable for everyone, including those with uncontrolled high blood pressure, seizure disorders, eating disorders, or a history of drug or alcohol dependence. While there has been short-term success, there isn’t much long-term data to work with.

Also known as Saxenda, liraglutide reduces appetite, increases feelings of fullness, and slows the movement of food through the stomach. Taken by daily shots, it is used to treat type 2 diabetes, can improve blood sugar control, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues.

Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain, and some individuals may experience pancreatitis or gallbladder problems. Like many of the drugs on this list, insurance may not cover the cost, which can be expensive, and there is little information about long-term success.

Available under the brand names Xenical and Alli, has been shown to aid in weight loss in studies by inhibiting the absorption of dietary fat in the digestive system, reducing the calorie intake by the body. Alli is a lower-dose version and is available over the counter. Its long-term safety is well-documented.

But Orlistat can cause oily stools, frequent bowel movements, flatulence, and abdominal discomfort. It can also slow the absorption of necessary nutrients the body needs to function properly. Weight loss isn’t as much as with other drugs and Orlistat must be taken with a revised diet.

Commonly known by the brand name Qsymia, Phentermine-topiramate helps reduce hunger and makes you feel fuller faster. This leads to smaller portions and fewer calories being consumed. It can help with diabetes or high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar control.

But it can also cause dry mouth, constipation, insomnia, dizziness, and changes in taste sensation and some people experience increased heart rate, mood changes, or cognitive difficulties. It should not be used during pregnancy or by those with glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, a history of cardiovascular disease, or a history of drug or alcohol dependence.

Known by the brand name Wegovy, it acts like a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which helps reduce appetite and increase feelings of fullness. Patients take one shot a week and Semaglutide can help with blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar control. Studies have shown long-term success, although more research is needed.

But Semaglutide can cause mild nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. This medication should be avoided by those with medullary thyroid carcinoma or multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2). It should be used with caution in individuals with a history of pancreatitis or certain gastrointestinal disorders.

Is it Worth It?

While there has been short-term success for individuals, the long-term safety of many of these drugs is unknown. And as we mentioned above, these medications aren’t just used a handful of times, they must be taken for the rest of your life to keep the weight off. And you’ll need to make lifestyle adjustments as well.

The best way to lose up to 80 percent of your excess weight–and keep it off–remains bariatric surgery, along with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Through these weight-loss procedures, you give yourself the best chance to improve your quality of life, decrease the chances of diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments, and prolong your life.

For more information about bariatric surgeries, feel free to watch our online seminar. Wondering if you’re a candidate for gastric bypass, gastric sleeve, duodenal switch, or other procedures? Click the orange “Are You a Candidate” button on the lower left side of this page and find out. We look forward to finding out how we can help you live a healthier, happier life!

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