For the first time in over a decade, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a new prescription weight-loss medication called lorcaserin, which will be sold under the brand name Belviq. This new diet drug, developed by Arena Pharmaceuticals, turns on a chemical receptor in the brain, helping you consume less but feel more full on smaller amounts of food. Makers of the drug claim it can help users lose about five percent of their body weight if they incorporate a proper diet and exercise regimen. Patients should expect to see this drug available in the beginning of 2013.
Because more than two-thirds of the United States population is overweight or obese, this could have major public health implications. However, it's important to remember that this medication isn't a miracle pill that will act as a cure for obesity, and it might not be effective for everyone.
The idea of an overall healthy diet and active lifestyle being the focus of chronic disease prevention and treatment is echoed by the FDA in their position that, "the approval of this drug, used responsibly in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle, provides a treatment option for Americans who are obese." Scientists who study obesity agree that, although the drug's approval is a big step forward in the treatment of obesity, it's no magic bullet and is no substitute for a healthy diet and regular exercise regimen.
Other Diet Drugs Currently Approved by FDA
As of 2012, there are only two FDA-approved weight-loss medications on the market. These include orlistat, sold under the brand name Xenical, which blocks a portion of the fat in your diet from being absorbed in your intestine, and phentermine, which suppresses your appetite. There is also an over-the-counter weight-loss drug available called Alli, which is actually a lower dose of orlistat.
Diet Drugs in the Past and on the Horizon
Three previously-approved diet drugs have been pulled from the market due to heart valve problems and possible increased risks for heart attacks and strokes. These diet medications included fenfluramine (often referred to as "fen-phen"), dexfenfluramine (called Redux) and sibutramine (Meridia). Several other potential diet medications never got FDA approval.
A weight loss drug on the horizon, called Qnexa, is currently being reviewed by the FDA and the public will know around mid-July if the drug is approved. Qnexa combines phentermine (an appetite suppressant) and a medication called topiramate (an anti-seizure drug). Makers of Qnexa claim it helps obese patients drop about 10% of their body weight when used with a diet and exercise plan.
The Bottom Line
This new diet drug could be a revolutionary tool for physicians and their patients in the treatment of obesity, and it could end up saving lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs associated with the treatment of obesity and related diseases. But it's important to remember that a healthy diet and regular exercise, above all else, is the ultimate tool in your arsenal of weapons to fight being overweight and to promote overall wellness.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.