Weight loss tablets

Weight loss tablets

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Table of contents
OverviewThe history and complications of weight loss pillsWhat are prescription weight-loss drugs?How do prescription weight-loss drugs work?Effectiveness of prescription weight-loss drugsPros and cons of prescription weight-loss drugsImportant considerationsFrequently asked questions about weight loss pillsConclusionWhere to find more informationSources
Navin Khosla NowPatientGreen tick
Medically reviewed by Navin Khosla, BPharm and written by Rajive Patel, BPharm - Updated on 26 Jan 2024
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Weight loss can be a challenging journey, especially for individuals who have struggled with obesity or excessive weight. While a well balanced diet and exercise are essential components of any weight loss treatment and the prevention of weight gain, some individuals may benefit from the assistance of prescription weight-loss drugs. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the pros and cons of these medications, their effectiveness, potential side effects, and other important considerations.

The history and complications of weight loss pills

Weight loss pills, also known as diet pills, have been around for a long time. However, their history is not only long but complicated. In the U.S., early iterations of weight loss pills were banned or withdrawn by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) due to safety concerns. This prompted the agency to impose stricter guidelines for testing and reviewing weight loss medications in the late 1990s. While these measures reduced safety concerns, the effectiveness of these pills remained a major issue. Patients were disappointed by the fact that these medications only helped them lose about 4% to 5% of their body weight, and in some cases, even less. This led to a surge in the weight loss supplement industry. In recent years, a new generation of prescription weight loss pills has emerged, offering potential advancements in effectiveness.

What are prescription weight-loss drugs?

Prescription weight-loss drugs are medications that healthcare providers prescribe to individuals who have not been able to lose weight through diet and exercise alone. They are typically recommended for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30, indicating obesity, or a BMI greater than 27 with a weight-related medical condition such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

How do prescription weight-loss drugs work?

Prescription weight-loss drugs work through various mechanisms to aid in weight loss. Some drugs act as appetite suppressants, while others inhibit the absorption of dietary fat. Let’s explore the different types of prescription weight-loss drugs and how they function:

Bupropion-Naltrexone (Contrave)

Bupropion-naltrexone is a combination drug that acts as an antidepressant (bupropion) and an opioid antagonist (naltrexone). This combination of active ingredients helps reduce appetite and cravings, making it easier to adhere to a calorie-restricted diet. It is important to note that bupropion carries a risk of suicidal thoughts and increased blood pressure, requiring close monitoring by healthcare providers.

Liraglutide (Saxenda)

Liraglutide is a medication originally developed to manage diabetes. It is now approved for weight loss in individuals without diabetes. Liraglutide mimics a hormone called GLP-1, which regulates appetite and helps control blood sugar levels. By increasing feelings of fullness and reducing food intake, liraglutide can aid in weight loss. However, it can also cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and pancreatitis.

Orlistat (Xenical, Alli)

Orlistat is a medication that inhibits the absorption of dietary fat in the intestines. It works by blocking an enzyme called lipase, which is responsible for breaking down body fat. As a result, a portion of the consumed fat passes through the digestive system without being absorbed. Orlistat is available in prescription strength (Xenical) and over-the-counter strength (Alli). Common side effects include gastrointestinal issues such as oily stools, gas, and frequent bowel movements. Before prescribing, your doctor will discuss the benefits and limitations of orlistat with you.

Phentermine-Topiramate (Qsymia)

Phentermine-topiramate is a combination drug that suppresses appetite and increases feelings of fullness. Phentermine acts as a stimulant, reducing appetite, while topiramate is an anticonvulsant that can cause weight loss as a side effect. This combination can be effective in promoting weight loss, but it may also lead to side effects such as increased heart rate, insomnia, and tingling in the hands and feet.

Semaglutide (Wegovy)

Semaglutide is another GLP-1 receptor agonist, similar to liraglutide. It was initially developed to manage diabetes but has also shown significant weight-loss effects. Semaglutide works by regulating appetite and reducing food intake. It is available as a weekly injection and has been associated with side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and headache.

Setmelanotide (Imcivree)

Setmelanotide is a medication approved for individuals aged 6 and older with obesity caused by specific genetic conditions. It helps regulate hunger and fullness by targeting rare genetic disorders associated with extreme hunger. Side effects of setmelanotide include skin irritation, nausea, and changes in skin pigmentation.

It is important to note that these medications should be used in conjunction with a comprehensive weight-loss plan that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise. They are not a standalone solution for weight loss but rather a tool to support and enhance the effectiveness of lifestyle changes.

Effectiveness of prescription weight-loss drugs

Prescription weight-loss drugs, when used as part of a comprehensive weight-loss plan, can lead to significant weight loss. Studies have shown that individuals who combine these medications with a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity can lose 5% to 12% more weight compared to lifestyle changes alone.

For example, taking these medications for a year can result in a total body weight loss of 3% to 12% more than what is achieved through lifestyle changes alone. While this may seem modest, losing 5% to 10% of total body weight has been shown to have significant health benefits, such as improved blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and lipid profiles.

Pros and cons of prescription weight-loss drugs

Like any medication, prescription weight-loss drugs have both benefits and potential drawbacks. Let’s examine the pros and cons of using these medications:


  • Enhanced weight loss: Prescription weight-loss drugs can help individuals achieve more significant weight loss compared to lifestyle changes alone
  • Health benefits: Losing 5% to 10% of total body weight can lead to improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and lipid profiles
  • Regulated and approved: These medications undergo rigorous testing and regulation, ensuring their safety and efficacy
  • Supervised use: Prescription weight-loss drugs are prescribed by healthcare providers who can monitor their effects and provide guidance


  • Side Effects: Common side effects of prescription weight-loss drugs include nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal issues
  • Cost: These medications can be expensive, and insurance coverage may vary. It is important to check with your insurance provider regarding coverage
  • Limited use: Prescription weight-loss drugs are not suitable for everyone, and there are specific criteria for eligibility. They are generally recommended for individuals with obesity or certain weight-related medical conditions
  • Long-term sustainability: Some individuals may regain weight once they stop taking these medications if they have not adopted lasting lifestyle changes

Important considerations

Before considering prescription weight-loss drugs, it is crucial to discuss the potential benefits and risks with a healthcare provider. They will evaluate your medical history, current health conditions, and eligibility for these medications. Additionally, it is essential to understand that weight-loss drugs are not a quick fix and should be used as part of a comprehensive weight-loss plan. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Healthcare provider guidance: Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any weight-loss medication to ensure it is appropriate for your specific situation
  • Adherence to treatment plan: Follow the prescribed treatment plan, which includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and medication usage as directed
  • Potential side effects: Be aware of potential side effects and report any concerning symptoms to your healthcare provider
  • Long-term lifestyle changes: Focus on making sustainable lifestyle changes, including healthy eating habits and regular physical activity, to maintain weight loss even after discontinuing the medication

Frequently asked questions about weight loss pills

How effective are weight loss pills?

The effectiveness of weight loss pills has always been a subject of debate. Some of the medications have been shown to lead to weight loss of 10% to 15%. While weight loss medications can play a significant role in losing a substantial amount of weight, it is important to understand that they work best when combined with dietary changes and increased physical activity. Weight loss pills alone are not a magic solution, and having realistic expectations is crucial.

How do weight loss pills work?

Weight loss pills work through various mechanisms, with most of them targeting your appetite. The exact mechanism by which these drugs affect appetite is not fully understood, as appetite is a complex process influenced by factors like blood sugar, gut physiology, mood, and stress levels. Some weight loss medications, such as orlistat, work by decreasing the absorption of fat. The newest weight loss medication, tirzepatide, affects both appetite and satiety (how long a person feels full after eating).

Are weight loss pills safe?

Safety has always been a major concern with weight loss pills, especially considering the history of banned or withdrawn medications. However, the newer generation of weight loss pills have shown fewer adverse effects compared to their predecessors. The most common complications noticed with these medications are gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and cramping. Certain medications that limit fat absorption may potentially cause fecal incontinence in some individuals, while others may increase the risk of pancreatitis. It is essential to discuss your health history with your doctor to determine the best weight loss pill for you.

What is the best weight loss pill?

Weight loss pills are not suitable for everyone. They are typically recommended for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30, indicating obesity. However, there are cases where individuals with a lower BMI may also be considered, especially if they have central obesity (excess weight around the waistline) and other health conditions like diabetes. It is worth noting that some of the newer and more effective weight loss medications are currently only approved for individuals with diabetes. Therefore, non-diabetic individuals may need to pay out of pocket for certain weight loss medications. Additionally, individuals with very high BMIs above 40 or 50 may benefit from weight loss medications, but may require weight loss surgery for significant results.

Determining the best weight loss pill depends on various factors, including age, degree of obesity, presence of diabetes, and smoking history. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, one weight loss injection, tirzepatide, has shown promising results and is considered the strongest option currently available. It can lead to body weight loss in the range of 15% to 20%, which is comparable to surgical weight loss. However, it is important to consult with your doctor to determine the most suitable weight loss pill for your specific circumstances.

Can I use weight loss pills long-term?

Obesity is often considered a chronic disease, and weight loss medications may need to be taken long-term for many individuals. While the duration of medication use depends on the individual’s response and overall health improvement, it is worth mentioning that weight loss medications are not a short-term solution. Similar to blood pressure drugs, weight loss medications typically need to be taken continuously for an extended period. However, with successful weight loss and the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits, some individuals may be able to maintain their weight loss and discontinue the use of weight loss pills.

What is in weight loss pills?

Weight loss dietary supplements contain various ingredients, including herbs, fiber, and minerals, in different amounts and combinations. Some common ingredients include African mango, beta-glucans, bitter orange, caffeine, calcium, capsaicin, carnitine, chitosan, chromium, coleus forskohlii, conjugated linoleic acid, fucoxanthin, Garcinia cambogia, glucomannan, green coffee bean extract, and many more. Each ingredient has its own claims and potential effects on weight loss. However, the scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of these ingredients is limited. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before taking any weight loss dietary supplements, especially if you have underlying medical conditions.

Are there any risks when taking weight loss pills?

Weight loss dietary supplements can carry potential risks and side effects. The safety of certain ingredients, including African mango, bitter orange, caffeine, carnitine, chitosan, and others, has not been extensively studied. These supplements can cause various adverse effects such as headache, sleeping problems, flatulence, gas, chest pain, anxiety, muscle and bone pain, rapid heart rate, and high blood pressure. It is crucial to be aware of the potential risks and consult with a healthcare provider before starting any weight loss dietary supplements.

While weight loss pills and dietary supplements may seem like an appealing option for achieving weight loss goals, it is important to prioritize a sensible approach. The proven methods for weight loss involve making healthier food choices, reducing calorie intake, and engaging in regular physical activity. These lifestyle changes, combined with professional guidance, can lead to sustainable weight loss and improved overall health. It is essential to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to develop a personalized plan that suits your specific needs and goals.


Weight loss pills and dietary supplements continue to be a popular choice for individuals seeking weight management. However, it is essential to approach these options with caution and skepticism. While some prescription weight loss pills have shown promising results, the effectiveness and safety of weight loss supplements remain questionable. It is important to prioritize a sensible approach to weight loss, focusing on healthy lifestyle changes rather than relying solely on pills or supplements. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any weight loss regimen to ensure the best possible outcome for your health and well-being.

Where to find more information

For more information on weight loss pills, weight loss supplements, and healthy weight loss strategies, you can consult reputable sources such as the NHS, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and other credible health organizations. These sources provide comprehensive and up-to-date information on weight loss options, safety concerns, and evidence-based recommendations for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Remember to always seek professional advice and make informed decisions to prioritize your well-being.


Medical Disclaimer

NowPatient has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all material is factually accurate, complete, and current. However, the knowledge and experience of a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought after instead of using the information in this page. Before taking any drug, you should always speak to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider.

The information provided here about medications is subject to change and is not meant to include all uses, precautions, warnings, directions, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or negative effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a particular medication does not imply that the medication or medication combination is appropriate for all patients or for all possible purposes.

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