Are New FDA-Approved Diet Drugs Worth the Risk?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Within the past month, the FDA has approved two new prescription weight-loss drugs.  While neither drug is being touted as a “magic pill” that will make weight loss a quick and easy process, they are still marketed as an aid to help those with significant weight loss goals.  It’s important to understand what these drugs do and how they work so that you can make informed decisions when it comes to your health.
Qysmia, which was approved in July, is a combination of two older drugs: phentermine (an appetite suppressant) and topiramate (which enhances feelings of satiety after eating.)  Beliviq, a similar drug the FDA approved in June, works by activating receptors in the brain that make a person feel full.  Both drugs are approved for two types of people:  obese individuals, and those who are overweight with at least one other health condition such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.  It is recommended that both drugs be used in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise to promote weight loss. 
Both drugs carry significant risks.  Qysmia’s side effects can include (but are not limited to) heart palpitations and risk to a pregnant woman’s unborn baby.  Belviq’s side effects can include (but are not limited to) problems with attention and memory.  Because of the risks, Qysmia can only be dispensed by specially certified drugstores.   
In late-stage clinical trials, patients on the middle dose of Qsymia lost an average of 8.4 percent of their weight after one year. Those on the high dose lost 10.6 percent. By comparison, those on Arena’s Belviq lost an average of 5.8 percent of their weight after one year.”  Although the average rate of weight loss was smaller with Belviq, the risks associated with this drug appear to be lower.  The price of these drugs is yet to be revealed, but they aren’t expected to be cheap and won’t be covered by many insurance providers. 
It’s been 13 years since the FDA last approved a prescription weight-loss medication.  Until now, only one drug (Xenical) had been approved for long-term use and it was not commonly prescribed.  (If you’re wondering about Alli, that’s an over-the-counter drug that anyone can purchase.)  The FDA has hesitated giving approval to diet drugs in recent years, given the history of safety issues with products like fen-phen.   
I can understand why these drugs are tempting to try.  Weight loss can be a slow and difficult process, especially when you’re working hard and not seeing the results you’d expect.  Who wouldn’t want an extra boost to lose weight more quickly and easily?  But in my opinion, it’s better to look at the bigger picture.  Sure, you might see a slightly lower number on the scale than you would have through diet and exercise alone.  But is it worth the risk?  Isn’t it best to lose weight in a healthy way by establishing habits you can stick with for the rest of your life?  That way you’ll keep the weight off for good and not expose yourself to unnecessary danger just to lose a few extra pounds.  That’s my 2-cents.
What do you think?

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Thank you for the info. My daughter was diagnosed last year with Epilepsy. I have so much to learn. Report
Knowing the side effects it does not seem worth it when you can lose just as much through proper eating and exercise. Report
They are worth it to jump start you but you need to be under the care of a doctor. It is only used for short periods of time to get a person out of the obese stage. The risk of not losing weight is your health . If I do not loose my weight I will risk
my health. I am healthy right now and want to stay this way. If I stay big I will end up on so many different pills for pain, diabetes, blood pressure. Yea its Worth it. I have seen people have surgery to loose weight cause there health was so bad. Report
I often been tempted to try diet pills and have certainly known people that have. I have always been too scared that they would make me too uppity. I have never known anyone that had significant benefit from them, so to me its totally not worth the risks!!! Report
I took topiramate as perscribed by a nuerologist for migraines. I was on it for about 2 months during which I became a "true blonde". Had difficulty making simple decisions, finding the right words to express myself, generally being a dummy! (And I'm a natural blonde so dont shoot me for the blonde comment). Went back to dr to get off meds and she says "Oh yeah, we nicknamed Topomax (brand name of topiramate) Dopomax because lots of ppl complain about that". That should have beed told to me before I took it! Once off the drugs I got back to normal but I'd rather be large and smart than skinny and stupid any day! Report
At this time I am not interested in weight loss pills. They are not magic you still have to watch what you eat and exercise so if I'm already doing that and losing why take a pill just to lose an extra few pounds a year. The risks of side effects and the expense aren't worth it for me. Report
All drugs have damaging side affects, but is it really worth the risk when there is a proven way to lose weight by just changing your eating habits and moving aroung. It may take longer but it is safer. In the long run it wouldn't be good to work hard to get healthy just to have a side affect kill you or ruin your life. Report
I wouldn't try a diet pill ever. It's not even crossed my mind because not only does one regain the weight but also, the side effects are worse than the "benefits" --- so a big NO from me! Report
Let's face the real facts, the only way to lose weight is to watch what you eat and exercise. I have taken two different types of drugs back in the 90s to help with weight loss and as soon as I stopped taking them the weight came back. Report
Already taking too many meds b/c of side effect created issues...working toward getting off of them. No thank you. Report
Drugs in my book are not worth losing weight and getting sick. I have found that drugs do not help in any way, I am for the natural as much as possible. Report
I won't use drugs for anything I do not absolutely have to have and I am working to get off of Zetia. I know I never get off the thyroid med, but I only use my inhaler when I'm having an asthma attack. For me, we found out with Lipitor & Zocor that I am severly allergic to statin drugs. I also have had sever reactions to several other drugs.... NO THANKS the side effects published and unknown are NOT worth a few pounds.
Yes, the temptation is there to lose weight quickly and for some people, they may need these drugs. But, for the majority of us, if we are honest with ourselves, we know we've abused food and our bodies. We are coming to grips with what it takes to eat healthy foods, make sensible choices and to become more active. We're actually learning to appreciate the little things in life and speak positively to ourselves. Lastly, we might even be affecting change in those around us. That doesn't come by taking a pill, but through perserverance. It is in the perserverance that our true characters are built. Report
Controlling my hunger is HARD and I am obese but there is not a chance on earth I would ever consider diet pills, I foolishly did it in the 80's when i was in college and had put on about 40 lbs I learned my lesson then. NEVER AGAIN! Report
I personally believe in taking as few medications as necessary. Now-a-days people are given medications on a whim. They cause a side effect, then they are given a new medication to take care of the side effect. I would rather go to my doctor and have them tell me that I don't need a medication and to let my body take care of itself. With the respect to the weight loss drugs, eating better and exercising really is the best thing you can do for your body. Plus, just because it was approved by the FDA does not mean that there are long term studies out there on the drug. Thirty years from now what might happen? Report
No thanks. Why take the risk or deal with the side effects to lose maybe 15 lbs in a year. I sure miss the appetite suppression with the phen/fen though, I lost 40 lbs in 3 months at the time. Report
I just do not trust quick fixes. You learn nothing as far as a healthful life style go. Once off the drug the weight come back on plus more. Report
Well, Folks -- I was on an FDA-approved diet med as well, in the mid-90's for several months. It was soon after the original Fen Phen (or Phen Fen, can't recall which of the words was first) was released and then removed, and replaced by just one of those Fens/Phens, and relabeled REDUX, saying THAT was safer (a sarcastic "ha ha" here).

And guess who had heart surgery several years later?? Yup -- ME! It was directly attributed to that medication. THOUSANDS of us had to have our aortic valves replaced! And the pharmaceutical company had to pay out, as they were found to be at fault.

I would NEVER take diet meds again -- NEVER!

Meds will never fix the issues behind the eating; that's up to me (with the help of a therapist if need be.. which I am doing).

Ok, off my soapbox. :)

Debb Report
not worth the potential risks Report
Sometime we need to have some faith. Maybe they can work on obese persons that can't do exercises. We are society with a lot of obese's persons and we need to do something to stop that. When we were little we played a lot outside. Today most of the children are inside the house playing with game consoles and eating unhealthy. Thanks GOD, now some game consoles have "games" to do exercises; like the Wii. We have to change our habits to healthy habits and teach our children, too while they still little. Report
The FDA had to approve the medications based on studies done and demand. The obesity epidemic is too serious NOT to address all options for treatment.

That said, weight loss is NOT in a pill, it's much more involved and lifestyle trumps all else.

As a physician, I have in the past prescribed weight loss drugs for patients, because the individual needs help. This was before SparkPeople, but WW and other weight loss programs were available (and I strongly recommended them for education, support, and accountability).

One problem that will occur is people will get these medications and give them to friends or sell them. Sad, but true. There will be lots of young girls in particular who will take them in an effort to "be skinny." They will use them without prescriptions, supervision, or medical indication.

And there WILL be complications - it's inevitable.

People will go to their doctor and DEMAND a prescription, whether they meet the criteria or not. If they are refused, they will doctor shop until they get the prescription somewhere else.

Hopefully people will not be handed a pill by itself, but given a complete personalized plan to help them reduce their health risks and improve their lives.

I hope people do not waste a lot of money on these medicines, and that few lives are lost from complications. Report
I highlyyyy recommend reading the book "Turn off the hunger switch" by Doctor Paul Rivas as it gives you a whole new perspective on diet pills and on natural alternatives also! Amazing. I study Nutrition and it all just made so much sense reading through. Lots of "ahhh" moments.
Plus in taking his advice I have lost 7 kilos in the last handful of weeks.
I have always been a dedicated gym goer and eat exceptionally carefully but after a very bad year with deaths in the family etc my body piled on weight (12 kilos) no matter how healthily I ate and nothing I did to get back in shape would work. His book made the difference. I still workout and eat like I should but now I am finally getting te results I deserve! So happy.

Both "Turn off the hunger switch" and "Turn off the hunger switch naturally" are avail on Amazon (I just checked). Report
There is no magic pill, as far as I'm concerned. Who knows what the side effects, may be. I believe you need to eat well, and get some exercise each day. As Cher, once said "if a beautiful body came in a bottle, we'd all have one"
As far as 8, or 10 lbs., in one year..not enough for me, to risk taking any kind of pill. Report
I remember when Fen Fen came on the market after the FDA approved the drug and they had to pull it off the market because it was dangerous. People started having heart problems and some even died, or they had to get heart valve surgery. I need to lose a lot of weight, but I'm scared to try those drugs because they might be very dangerous. Besides the moment I got off of them, I would probably gain the weight back. So no it's not worth it. Report
If you don't want to take this medication, then DON'T, but for those who do, then let them. It is a PERSONAL choice.
Doctors have been making LOTS of money out of doing Weight Loss Surgery for $30,000 a person, or the Lap Band for $16,000 . That is a choice I wouldn't make, but lots of them do. Report
The diet pills mentioned are only prescribed when certain criteria are met, and for all 99% of overweight people just need some willpower to eat less and exercise more, but what about the people like me who are disabled and so cannot exercise, and who have tried cutting down to 1000 calories a day. The weight didnt come off, I use natural supplements to help weight loss rather than prescription drugs, but there is no immediate rush for me to lose the weight-what if I had to lose weight for an operation? My final word is, if you can lose weight another way, then it isnt worth the risk... if you cant then arn't you risking your health more by being overweight? Report
Everyone wants a "magic pill" but not the risks. Until there is a proven no risk pill, I will muddle on with portion control and exercise. I do wonder about the product, Sensa, that you sprinkle on your food. WHAT SIDE EFFECTS happen with that?! Keep hearing of super results of weight loss, but I want a safe product! All these prescription medications that might cause "fatal events" according to the TV commercials---- make me think----Whaaat ??!! Did I really hear THAT?!!! Report
Have struggled with being overweight my whole life. Was on phen-fen years ago, and for once in my life felt in control. Lost 30 pounds without cravings or side effects. The FDA pulled it before I reached my goal. Yes, maybe I lucked out in not developing heart problems, but I really, really loved phen-fen. I eat right and exercise daily, but menopause has thrown me some huge curve balls, and I am back to wishing I had a pill just to help me along again. By the way, I am not on any other medications, so I don't feel pills are the answer to everything. Report
Do the math - highest dose can lose 10% of their body weight in a year? That's 12 months. By eating healthy and exercising, you should lose 1-2# per week. Take a 250# person - 10% is 25# for the entire year! Wow - I lost that amount in 2 months by smart eating and exercising. Why pay an exorbitant amount of money for a pill when you can basically do it for free by walking, running, aerobics, etc, etc and your grocery bill is a budgeted expense anyway? Report
The only "magic" pill for many people who struggle with weight loss is Adderall or a similar stimulant. Too few people are aware that much of what drives some of us to overeat is a comorbid undiagnosed Attention Deficit condition. This is the case especially for women. If you don't bring the ADD under control, the weight will never stay off. Report
I took the topiramate/phentermine combination in the trials and it does cause appetite loss. I lost about 50 lbs in 6 months. The rest of the story: it shot my thyroid, made me feel dopey, lost muscle tone along with the fat, and when I stopped the drugs I gained it all back! The thyroid has not recovered even after several years, and now I have high blood pressure. I was eating very healthy while I took the drug combo and wondered what would happen to people who were taking it and not eating super healthy.
It taught me a great lesson though, and now I won't do anything "temporary" for weight loss because if you can't do it for the rest of your life, the resulting weight loss will be only temporary and you'll be right back where you started except you'll have the extra baggage of additional health problems to deal with! Report
Worried about side effects? What about the side effects of being obese?!? Diabetes, heart problems, increased risk of cancer, infections... the list goes on and on. Hey if you are having success already, then these drugs are not for you, but these drugs may really help some people, and I'd hate to see someone who could benefit pass it up because of the negative hype surrounding weight loss medication. Report
I took fen phen when it was on the market and lost weight down to my goal, BUT I could barely remember my name. The pills made me not really care about anything, let alone eating. I believe the pills have lasting memory loss side effects with me. Most of these medications are a scheme for the drug companies to make $$$, they know weight loss is a struggle for a lot of Americans that are desperate. Don't make the drug companies rich, try to make good decisions about what ou eat and your activity level instead. If you fall off the wagon, brush yourself off and get back on. Report
I am very much into physical fitness, it helped me loose 60 pounds. But, I take topiramate because I have epilepsy and I get migraines and it has helped me tremendous medically. On the diet side, it does exactly what it says. If I don't eat a lot, I don't have the empty stomach feeling. It does not help with appetite suppression. Report
I think it's just another hype. I'm a believer of hard work and determination but to each their own. Report
It's so tempting to be able to just take a pill and fix all our troubles, but it's just not that simple. Changing our health requires commitment and effort. If you can do that, you don't need a pill. If you can't do that, a pill won't help. Report
Topamirate is an anti-seizure drug that is also used for migraine prevention. It has the added benefit of causing weight loss in some people. I am shocked they'd make this just a weight loss drug. I tried it for about a day for migraine prevention and it made me feel like I had the worst hangover of my life. Perhaps the weight loss version is a lower dose, but it hardly seems worth're messing around with brain chemicals and synapsis speed. Kind of a scary thing to do to yourself so you can fit in a size 14. Report
It is not worth the risk. Sounds like even if you take the pill you still need to eat right and exercise that's what I am doing anyway so why should I add additional chemicals to my body! There is not magic pill, drops or shot that is going to be better for me than moving more and eating less! It's a bonus if I make healthy food choices! When are people going to understand this. America is kinda stuck on the quick fix. The only I am going to loose weight and be healthy is if I do the work! It's up to me not the drug companies to accomplish this! Thank you SP for you help in keeping me focused and provide the support I need to accomplish my goals! Report
I agree. For a second there, I was excited. But my first look is for side effects. Can't afford to try anything that would affect my heart, so that lets out one. The other... who needs attention issues? Not me! Report
I understand that someone with a significant amount of weight to be lost can feel overwhelmed, but rather than pay for a prescription, they may better benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy (or similar).

According to the information provided in the article, a 300lb individual on middle-dose Qsymia can on average expect to lose just over 25lb in a year. Not impressive considering the risks. I think examining what got them to the weight and putting education and support in place is a better way to go. Report
I agree JUST SAY NO! Report
Just Say NO! Report
Exercise, water, cut out the sugar, juice up and take some "CLA" Daily... Report
I took topiramate for several years to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. It worked well for that, but I felt like an idiot - I couldn't think clearly, remember things, and had difficulty with putting together sentences to express myself. After I stopped taking it, my weight went up very quickly. I can believe that I ate less while I was taking it, but after I stopped I gained weight. And even if it worked, the side effects were not worth it! Report
LOL - one pill makes you larger... and one pill makes you small... great line!

Seriously, phentermine (Adipex) is such a horrible drug. I have, in the past, been addicted to it, and my doctor just kept feeding it to me. Dangerous stuff...

I have tried various pills in combination with my healthier diet and exercise program. Some were reccomended by Dr Oz, some I just came across on my own. I tried to stay away from the ones that have a lot of caffeine. I can't be sure that any of them helped with my weight loss.
The latest one I bought was also on Dr Oz reccomended list. I wish that I had read the package a little closer because I'm not so sure that I want to take it now. Report
@LETTAGUDER Stop advertising your fake wares on SP. You are in breach of community guidelines. We've all heard the, 'It helped me so it will help you' spiel before. Report
Double check my math here, but on the high dose a person can expect to lose 10.6% of their body weight. So someone weighing 300 lbs would lose 31.8 lbs in a year, or about 2.7 lbs a month? And it's to be taken "in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise to promote weight loss". The lower dosages produce even less results.
I don't see the point of the pill. Isn't a healthy diet and regular exercise going to take care of that amount of weight loss? Not to mention the potential health hazards and side effects?

What an amazing time for me to com across this. Just two days ago I was talking to my DH about this. I am coming up on my one year anniversay with Spark. the first 8 months I did great. The last three have been REALLY bad. In July I actually gained 18 lbs back. I am only halfway through my journey, so I should not be so stalled out. Some of it IS my bad choices, but some of it is pure hunger. I know two different people that started their journey after I did, no, that's not fair, they joined a health thing where they take pills. they both had half the weight to lose that I did, and they are at goal already. So I'm starting to think that maybe WITH diet and exercise, the pills may not be such a bad choice. The down side for me is I WANT to do this ALL on my own. I didn't take pills to get here, BUT, I'm losing my motivation and feeling frustrated watching others lose all their weight without spending a single minute working out!! Report
I agree with the majority of the people who have commented here - the only SAFE way to lose weight is through diet and exercise! The FDA can keep their quick fixes which more than likely will be proven in a few years to do more harm than good... Report