Know the pros and cons of weight loss medications

By Dr. Ayotunde Adeyeri

‘B y next summer, I’m going to lose some weight.” If you find yourself uttering these words, know this: many so-called “miracle” weight loss supplements and foods (including teas and coffees) don’t live up to their claims. Worse, they can cause serious harm, say FDA regulators. The agency has found hundreds of products that are marketed as dietary supplements but actually contain hidden active ingredients (components that make a medicine effective against a specific illness) contained in prescription drugs, unsafe ingredients that were in drugs that have been removed from the market, or compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans.

For example, the FDA has found weight-loss products tainted with the prescription drug ingredient sibutramine. This ingredient was in an FDA-approved drug that was removed from the market because it caused heart problems and strokes.

The FDA also found some weight-loss products, marketed as supplements, in fact contained dangerous concoctions of hidden ingredients used to treat high blood pressure and even depression. (Most recently, the FDA discovered products marketed as dietary supplements containing fluoxetine, the active ingredient found in Prozac.) Another product contained triamterene, a powerful diuretic (sometimes known as “water pills”) that can have serious side-effects and should only be used under the supervision of a health care professional.

Many of these tainted products are imported, sold online, and heavily promoted on social media sites. Some can also be found on store shelves. And if you’re about to take what you think of as “natural” dietary supplements — such as bee pollen or garcinia cambogia — be aware the FDA has found some of these products also contain hidden active ingredients contained in prescription drugs.

Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, dietary supplement firms do not need FDA approval prior to marketing their products. It is each company’s responsibility to make sure its products are safe and that any claims made are scientifically proven.

The FDA has received reports of harm associated with the use of weight loss products, including increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, stroke, seizure and even death. It has issued more than 30 public notifications and recalled seven tainted weight loss products in 2014.

To help people with long-term weight management, the FDA has approved prescription drugs such as Belviq, Qysmia, and Contrave, but these products are intended for people at least 18 years of age who:

 have a body mass index (BMI, a standard measure of body fat) of 30 or greater (considered obese)

 have a BMI of 27 or greater (considered overweight) and have at least one other weight-related health condition

Prescription drugs are not an answer for people who want to lose just a few pounds. Moreover, if you are going to embark on any type of weight control campaign, always talk to your healthcare professional about it first. Your doctor will also consider your health history, possible side effects and the potential interaction of weight-loss drugs with other medications you’re taking.

When combined with a low-calorie diet and regular exercise, weight-loss drugs produce an average weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of total body weight within a year, which is a typical weight-loss goal.

Diet and exercise are responsible for part of this weight loss, and medications are responsible for part as well. Even modest weight reduction can help to decrease blood pressure, lipid levels and blood glucose levels as well as increase insulin sensitivity.

It’s important to keep in mind that these medications may not work for everyone.And when you stop taking them, you could regain the weight you lost.

If extra weight, obesity or morbid obesity is impacting your health and quality of life, consult your physician or schedule an appointment with a bariatric surgeon to discuss your options for more permanent weight loss solutions.

Dr.Ayotunde Adeyeri is a board-certified and fellowship-trained laparoscopic, bariatric and general surgeon and serves as medical director of the Institute for Weight Loss at Raritan Bay Medical Center. For more information or to attend a free bariatric surgery seminar, call 855-TIME-4-ME.