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June 16, 2013 at 2:16 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Weight Loss Drugs: The Ongoing Search for the Holy Grail

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

This week, a new FDA-approved weight loss drug became available. Belviq is indicated for "chronic weight management along with a calorie-controlled diet and increased physical activity in adults with a body mass index above 30 or in those above 27 with one weight-related medical condition, such as type II diabetes or high blood pressure." Cutting to the chase, my initial views on this new weight loss option are not optimistic. Should people be holding out for that "magic pill" that will allow them to shed pounds? 

A brief look at Belviq

Belviq is felt to imitate serotonin at certain chemical switches called 5HT2c. This activation results in an increased sense of fullness with eating and reducing hunger.

The road to market availability for Belviq has been long and a bit rocky. Belviq's first go with the FDA was shot down because of concerns over a potential risk for tumors, among other issues. Meanwhile, the European counterpart to the FDA declined approval, stating that "the benefits of Belviq did not outweigh its risks." Concerns included the tumor issue found in animal studies, along with potential risk for psychiatric issues and heart valve problems.

Bitten and shy

Belviq will make the second FDA-approved weight loss drug to hit the market this year. Before that, there had been a 13-year gap, likely due to the Fen-phen fiasco. With Fen-phen, heart valve complications were discovered after it gained wide use following FDA approval and marketing. Because of this, many healthcare providers have taken a "bitten and shy" approach to prescribing weight loss drugs. As a supporting point, Qsyma, the drug that preceded Belviq to market last September, has reported lackluster sales figures.

Is the holy grail out there?

Despite dangers and fears, healthcare providers get a steady stream of inquiries about weight loss in a pill. While these prescription and over-the-counter products can give some results, it is important to note that they are only indicated with a prudent diet. Physical activity helps, too. That said, for most, a prudent diet and physical activity would yield weight loss regardless of an supplementary help from a weight loss pill. Furthermore, the risks are legitimate. I do not consider the jury to be out on the current prescription drugs. The over-the-counter and herbal drugs (yes, plant-derived drugs) contain stimulants in one form or another, such as caffeine and ephedrine (ma huang, cola nut, guarana, epedra, etc).

In conclusion...

Weight loss is about re-calibrating lifestyle for most. It is not found solely in a pill presently nor will it be in the foreseeable future. If you would like information on healthy weight loss, I suggest checking out this site.

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