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The Dangers of Losing Weight With Non-Prescribed Drugs

It seems that everywhere we look, there are images of fit and beautiful people. Whether it’s in magazines, on social media, or at the movies, this constant barrage of perfect bodies makes us feel pressured to get fit.

In fact, the diet industry is a $20 million business in the U.S. alone. It’s estimated that in 2017, 66% of Americans were on some type of weight loss plan.

Unfortunately, most people want to lose weight quickly, often with little regard to their safety. While they may acknowledge that their weight gain didn’t happen overnight, they still want fast results and will try almost anything to achieve them.

Are there any drugs which will help you lose weight?

Drugs to lose weightThere are currently several prescription medications which are designed to help patients lose weight. Pharmaceutical companies continue to search for drugs which are safe and effective but there are only five drugs (or combinations of drugs) which are FDA approved for the treatment of obesity.

Orlistat – Now available over the counter as Alli, and by prescription as Xenical, orlistat has been in use since 1999. It’s meant to be used in combination with a low-fat, low-calorie diet and works by preventing the fat in your food from being absorbed by your body.

The weight loss that patients achieve while on orlistat, is modest which can be discouraging to patients expect fast results.

The side effects can range from uncomfortable (gassiness, oily bowel movements) to dangerous (severe liver damage).

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Lorcaserin – This drug helps the brain register feelings of fullness, which encourages users to eat less.  It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and has been associated with an average weight loss of anywhere from 3 to 3.7%, more than a placebo.

Side effects include headache, constipation and drowsiness. It cannot be used with SSRI’s.

Phentermine + topiramate – This drug combination was also approved by the FDA in 2012. Sold under the brand name Osymia, it’s a stimulant which decreases appetite, while topiramate is a migraine/anti-seizure drug which causes feelings of fullness.

Women of childbearing age must use caution while taking this drug and avoid pregnancy due to birth defects. The drug combination has also been found to produce suicidal thoughts in rare cases.

Bupropion+naltrexone – This drug combination is sold under the brand name Contrave and was approved by the FDA in 2014.

Contrave is being monitored for cardiovascular side effects. It also carries a black box warning from the FDA because bupropion has been associated with increased suicidal thoughts.

Liraglutide – It was first approved for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes because it helps promote insulin production in the pancreas, thereby controlling blood sugar.  In 2014, the FDA expanded the use of liraglutide to include the treatment of diabetes, under the brand name, Saxenda. It is taken as a once-a-day shot.

The side effects are related to a study which found that it caused tumors in rodents. While it’s unknown if the drug causes the same effect in humans, people with a history of certain cancers should not take Saxenda.

All of these medications (except for Alli) require a prescription and the patient should be monitored by a physician. It is not safe to take these drugs if they haven’t been prescribed to you, even if they appear to work well and safely for a friend or family member.

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Non-Prescription Diet Pills

There are numerous herbal supplements and diet pills available without a prescription. Some of them have received attention on television talk shows and in magazines with consumers clamoring to buy them hoping to lose weight quickly.

While some of these remedies are harmless, countless others have been shown to cause serious side effects in users. In the past, supplements such as ephedra, had to be taken off the market after several people suffered serious side effects including, in some cases death.

Here are some of the most common non-prescription diet pills and their side effects:

Raspberry Ketones

The makers of this product claim that raspberry ketones regulate a hormone which is found lacking or in low concentration in people are overweight.

The pills can cause a spike in body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. They can also exacerbate existing conditions such as asthma, COPD, and diabetes.

Thermogenic Fat Burners

There are a number of companies which offer fat burner pills which contain a combination of ingredients which purportedly raise the body’s metabolism. There have been no FDA studies to confirm these claims.

However, there have been numerous side effects as a result of taking these supplements. A popular fat burner, Hydroxycut, was pulled from the market in 2009, because it was found to cause liver damage.

Other side effects of fat burners include: anxiety, elevated heart rate and insomnia.


It’s understandable to want to look and feel your best. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for losing weight. Self-prescribing diet pills is not only often a waste of money, but it can also lead to serious side effects.

Visit your health professional and have a candid discussion about your weight and seek his or her advice on the best course of action. Make sure you understand the risks and benefits of any diet pill, supplement or diet plan which you decide to use to ensure you know what to expect.

By |2018-08-31T09:34:02+00:00July 17th, 2018|Categories: Weight Loss|0 Comments

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