New Weight Loss Drug Approved Last Week (9/10/14)

If obesity is a disease, shouldn’t there be a drug to cure it?dreamstime_xl_37916610

It seems logical, but it’s not practical, at least not yet. Obesity, unlike other diseases is far more complex and much less understood than a disease caused by a simple virus or bacteria. Therefore the cure will be different for different patients. One thing that remains constant, however, is the disease can’t be cured without the patient’s active involvement in the treatment by modifying behavior.

Brief Recap of Popular Weight Loss Drugs

Over the years the FDA has approved drugs for the treatment of obesity. Most of them were first approved for a different application. The results have been far less than satisfactory. Amphetamines, a popular prescription weight loss drug, turned out to be highly addictive. Eventually, it stopped being prescribed for weight loss.

In the 90s it looked like the answer to weight loss came in the combination of two drugs – fenfluramine and phentermine (known as fen-phen). Another popular weight loss drug, dexfenfluramine was also commonly prescribed. Eventually it was discovered that these drugs caused heart valve problems and the FDA requested fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine be removed from the market.

No new weight loss drugs were approved until 2012 when Qysmia and Belviq, were approved by the FDA.

Exactly how these drugs helps weight loss is not fully understood.

It’s believed that Qsymia works in several ways. It increases feelings of fullness, making foods taste less appealing, and increases calorie burning. It is also thought to suppress appetite by triggering release of a brain chemical that increases blood concentrations of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin.

Belviq, on the other hand, appears to work by turning on a specific chemical “switch” in the brain that increases levels of serotonin. It’s not known why this helps a person lose weight.

No other drugs to treat obesity were approved until last Wednesday when the FDA approved Contrave.

The FDA showed caution in the approval of Contrave

The agency looked at new information it requested from the drug’s maker in 2011 to ensure the safety for the heart. The approval came without strings. The FDA attached a requirement to do another study about the drug’s effect on the heart.

What can you expect if you are prescribed Contrave?

Contrave does seem to help get appetite and cravings under control although exactly how it does that isn’t understood by the experts. It isn’t prescribed for patients who want to lose 5 or 10 pounds. Its use is reserved for patients whose BMI (no less than 27, and usually 30 or higher) puts them at risk for heart attacks and strokes.

Taking Contrave is not enough to lose weight

The medication can’t work without cooperation from the patient. To get the best results, a patient must look after diet by making smarter food choices, and increasing daily physical activity. Reinforcing healthier weight management behaviors in an environment of group support has been shown to be an effective way for a patient to make lasting success.

The drug helps with controlling how much someone eats but that’s simply not enough to result in weight loss. In the clinical trials, all those who were taking Contrave received instructions for a reduced-calorie food plan and getting regular physical activity.

Contrave doesn’t produce miracles

Research shows that patients taking Contrave in clinical trials have lost, on average 5-9% of their starting weight in a year’s time. It also has shown promise as a drug to support maintenance.

It is thought that now that Contrave has been approved that weight loss results among the general public will improve. This is partially because doctors will become familiar with the drug’s effects and will be able to counsel Contrave patients better for enhanced weight loss progress.dreamstime_xl_41582371

Like most drugs, Contrave is not without reported side effects. The most common one is nausea, reported by 34% of people.

FDA reports other complaints were:

  • headache
  • constipation
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • insomnia
  • dry mouth
  • diarrhea
As of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, Contrave became another weapon available to help fight obesity. It must never be overlooked that medical intervention can help, but the patient’s actions continue to be the most important weapon to beat obesity.



Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is a Weight Watchers success story. She's a weight loss expert with 25 years of experience guiding women and men to their weight-related goals. Her articles on weight management have been published in health, family and women's magazines. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news, FOX network morning program Good Day Maine and 207 on WCSH.