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Top 5 Prescription Medications for Weight Loss

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMarch 4, 2024

While a healthy diet and regular exercise are the cornerstones of weight management, some individuals may require additional support to achieve and maintain their weight loss goals.

In such cases, healthcare professionals may consider prescribing weight loss medications. Taking these drugs for a year can result in a 3% to 12% greater reduction in total body weight compared to lifestyle changes alone. While it may not seem significant, losing and maintaining a 5% to 10% weight reduction can offer essential health benefits.

In this article, we will discuss the best prescription medications for weight loss, including their benefits, potential drawbacks, and other pertinent information to help you make informed decisions about your weight loss journey.

How Do Weight Management Medications Work?

Prescription medications for weight management are available in various forms, and they work through different mechanisms. These medications can aid individuals in losing weight or preventing further weight gain.

Weight management medications employ various mechanisms to support weight loss. Some common mechanisms include:

  • Appetite Suppression: Certain medications help individuals feel less hungry or full sooner, reducing overall food intake.
  • Reduced Nutrient Absorption: Some medications interfere with the body's ability to absorb fat from the food consumed, leading to a decrease in caloric intake.
  • Increased Fat Burning: Certain medications enhance the body's fat-burning processes, resulting in more calories burned.

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Who Might Benefit from Weight Management Medications?

Prescription weight management medications are intended for individuals who face health problems linked to overweight or obesity. Healthcare professionals use specific criteria, including Body Mass Index (BMI), to determine whether prescription medications suit a person.

Your healthcare professional may consider prescribing weight management medications if you are an adult with:

  • A BMI of 30 or Greater: If your BMI falls in this category, it indicates obesity, and you may be a candidate for prescription medications to address your weight concerns.
  • A BMI of 27 or Greater and Weight-Related Health Problems: Even if your BMI is slightly lower, butyou have weight-related health issues like high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, your healthcare professional may recommend weight management medications.

Can Children or Teenagers Take Weight Management Medications?

While overweight and obesity affect individuals of all ages, the use of weight management medications in children and teenagers is a topic of particular concern and consideration. Here are some essential points to keep in mind.

FDA Approval for Pediatric Use

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved specific weight management medications for children and adolescents. These medications may be prescribed for individuals between the ages of 12 and 16 who are struggling with obesity and have not had success with lifestyle interventions alone. These medications include:

  • Orlistat (Xenical)
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda)
  • Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia)
  • Semaglutide (Wegovy)

Additionally, a fifth prescription medication, setmelanotide (IMCIVREE), is approved by the FDA for children ages six years and older who have rare genetic disorders causing obesity.

Special Considerations for Younger Populations

When weight management medications are considered for children or teenagers, it's essential to account for several factors:

  • Growth and Development: Medications should not interfere with the normal growth and development of young individuals.
  • Lifestyle Interventions: Medications should be used with lifestyle programs, which are crucial in addressing weight issues in young people.
  • Close Monitoring: Healthcare professionals should closely monitor children and teenagers taking these medications to ensure safety and effectiveness.

The decision to use weight management medications in younger populations should be based on a thorough evaluation of the potential benefits and risks and should be made in collaboration with healthcare providers experienced in pediatric weight management.

Top 5 Prescription Medications for Weight Loss

We recognize the significance of addressing weight management, mainly concerning prescription medications for weight loss. To assist you in navigating this complex landscape, we've conducted extensive research and curated a list of the top prescription medications for weight loss.

Our selection process involves thorough consideration of various criteria, including mechanisms of action, documented effectiveness, and user feedback. Whether you're searching for a medication to kickstart your weight loss journey or to maintain long-term success, you'll find our top picks below.

Semaglutide is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist. It was initially introduced as Ozempic for managing blood sugar levels in individuals with Type-2 diabetes. In 2021, it received FDA approval for obesity treatment under Wegovy. Semaglutide mimics the action of GLP-1, which regulates appetite and food intake in the brain.

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Pros

  • Subcutaneous injection administered once a week.
  • Associated with a 20% reduction in major adverse cardiovascular events in individuals with established cardiovascular disease and overweight or obesity.
  • Can be used in adults and children aged 12 years and older with obesity or excess weight.

Cons

  • Side effects may include gastrointestinal symptoms, headache, dizziness, and fatigue.
  • Contraindicated in individuals with a history of medullary thyroid carcinoma or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2.
  • Warnings for potential adverse effects, such as acute pancreatitis, gall bladder disease, and suicidal behavior.

Liraglutide is another GLP-1 receptor agonist. It acts on gut hormones that signal the brain to reduce appetite and hunger.

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Liraglutide is another GLP-1 receptor agonist. It acts on gut hormones that signal the brain to reduce appetite and hunger.

Pros

  • Available as a daily subcutaneous injection.
  • Gradual dose escalation may lead to a 5-10% body weight loss.

Cons

  • Common side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • Contraindicated in individuals with a history of medullary thyroid carcinoma or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2.
  • Similar precautions and warnings as Semaglutide.

Phentermine is one of the oldest and most widely used weight loss medications. It primarily works as an appetite suppressant, helping individuals quickly feel full.

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Pros

  • Available in various formulations, including HCl, and commonly prescribed for short-term and long-term weight loss.
  • Some individuals may experience a 5% body weight loss.

Cons

  • Potential side effects include headache, high blood pressure, and insomnia.
  • Interactions with other drugs and contraindications with specific medications.
  • Use with caution in patients taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors and certain anesthetic agents.

This medication combines phentermine, which reduces appetite, with topiramate to decrease cravings.

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Pros

  • Effective for appetite suppression and craving reduction.
  • Recommended for adults with migraines and obesity.
  • Officially approved for pediatric patients aged 12 and older with BMI in the 95th percentile or greater for chronic weight management.

Cons

  • Possible side effects include abnormal sensations, dizziness, and constipation.
  • Contraindications include uncontrolled hypertension, coronary artery disease, and other medical conditions.
  • Increased risk of oral cleft in pregnancy.

Naltrexone-bupropion combines an opioid receptor antagonist with an antidepressant to affect the brain's pleasure-reward areas, reducing cravings and appetite.

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Pros

  • Some individuals may experience a 5-10% body weight loss.
  • Available in tablet form with a gradual dose increase.

Cons

  • Common side effects include nausea, constipation, and headache.
  • Contraindicated in individuals with a seizure disorder or those taking opioids.
  • Requires careful consideration due to potential side effects and contraindications.

Upcoming Weight Loss Medications

The field of weight loss medications is continually evolving. Researchers are developing new medications and combinations of drugs to provide more personalized and effective treatments. Here are some upcoming weight loss medications:

1. Tirzepatide (Mounjaro)

This is a once-weekly injectable medication that acts on GLP-1 and GIP receptors. It has shown promise for chronic weight loss maintenance and is awaiting FDA approval for anti-obesity treatment.

2. Orforglipron

Currently in Phase 3 trials, Orforglipron is a once-daily oral therapy designed to reduce weight in obese adults.

3. Retatrutide

This medication is a triple hormone receptor agonist that combines GIP agonism, GLP-1 receptor agonism, and glucagon receptor agonism. It is currently in trials and shows potential for chronic weight management.

4. Danuglipron

Another GLP-1 receptor agonist in pill form that is being studied for chronic weight management.

5. Bimagrumab

This human monoclonal antibody aims to increase muscle mass while decreasing fat.

🩹 Health Note

As more weight loss medications become available, healthcare providers will have a broader range of options to tailor treatments to individual patient needs, making obesity management more effective and patient-centric.

Tips for Taking Weight Management Medication

If you and your healthcare provider decide that prescription medications for weight management are appropriate for your situation, it's essential to use them safely and effectively. Here are some tips to consider:

1. Safe and Effective Medication Use

When taking prescription medications for weight management, it is crucial to use them safely and correctly. Misusing these drugs can lead to serious health risks. Follow these tips to get the most benefit from your treatment:

  • Follow the Prescribed Dose: Take the medication exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Do not change the dosage without consulting them.
  • Understand How the Medication Works: Be aware of the mechanism of action of your medication, potential side effects, and what to expect.
  • Regular Check-Ins: Keep scheduled follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor your progress, discuss any concerns, and address potential side effects.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Continue with lifestyle changes that promote healthy eating and physical activity. Medications should complement these efforts.

2. Monitoring and Consulting with Healthcare Professionals

Using prescription weight management medications should be a collaborative effort with your healthcare provider.

Regular check-ins allow them to assess your progress, adjust treatment if necessary, and ensure your overall well-being. Be sure to communicate any side effects or concerns, and don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare professional between appointments if necessary.

🗒️ Related Articles

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Final Thoughts

Prescription weight loss medications can provide valuable support for those with obesity-related health problems. Semaglutide is one of the top-rated weight loss medications due to its substantial benefits, including a 20% reduction in cardiovascular events for those with heart disease and obesity. It's approved for use in adults and children aged 12 or older with obesity.

It's essential to combine these medications with a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and exercise. Regular check-ins with healthcare providers are essential for monitoring progress and addressing potential side effects.

Consulting with healthcare professionals is crucial when considering these medications to ensure the best results in the weight loss journey.

FAQs on Prescription Medications for Weight Loss

Are there any FDA-approved, over-the-counter weight loss medications?

The only FDA-approved over-the-counter weight loss aid is Alli. Utilizing Alli can provide a head start to your diet and weight loss journey, helping you work towards your desired goals.

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Is it possible to obtain weight loss medication through a doctor's prescription?

Yes, you can obtain weight loss medication through a doctor's prescription. Weight loss treatments, when used in conjunction with a balanced diet and regular exercise, can be prescribed by a healthcare professional. These treatments may assist you in feeling fuller or altering fat absorption, making it easier to lose weight.

Does metformin contribute to weight loss, and how does it work?

Metformin, although commonly associated with weight loss, is not intended for weight loss purposes. The weight loss effect of metformin may be due to factors such as reduced appetite and changes in gut bacteria. It is primarily prescribed for managing blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Which FDA-approved prescription medications for weight loss can I consult with my doctor about to assist me in achieving my weight loss goals?

You can discuss various FDA-approved weight loss medications with your doctor. These include orlistat (Xenical, Alli), phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave), liraglutide (Saxenda), and semaglutide (Wegovy), all approved for long-term use. Your healthcare provider can help you select the most suitable option based on your individual needs.

What lifestyle changes should be combined with prescription weight loss medications for the best results?

Prescription weight loss medications work best when combined with essential lifestyle changes, such as making healthier food choices, reducing calorie intake, and incorporating regular exercise into your routine. These medications are most effective as part of a comprehensive weight management plan.

Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
Virtual weight loss solution
A personalized GLP-1 medication program delivered to you via our partner Korb Health
Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
  • Free consultation; program starts at $269/mo
  • Checkmark Inside Circle.Customized online program and wellness coaching
  • Prescription medications and supplies shipped to your door
Learn more

References