Weight Loss

A Scientific Look at Weight Loss Medications

Aditi Shenai

May 5, 2023

The prevalence of obesity has increased drastically in recent years. Along with this, the use of weight loss medications has also grown.  These medications claim to help people lose weight by decreasing appetite, increasing metabolism, or suppressing fat absorption.

Weight loss medications can have side effects such as nausea, diarrhoea, and constipation. They also may lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure and liver damage. In addition, one gets dependent on them as they are addictive, which can lead to drug dependence and abuse.

This article will scientifically look at weight loss medications, their effectiveness and potential risks. 

Weight Loss Medications: An Overview

Weight loss medications are prescription medications that can assist individuals in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. They work in different ways, depending on the components. For example, some drugs suppress appetite, while others target fat storage and metabolic pathways.

Some of the most commonly prescribed weight loss medications include appetite suppressants like lorcaserin, naltrexone-bupropion, orlistat, liraglutide, and stimulants like phentermine. In addition, drugs such as Contrave and Saxenda have both appetite-suppressant and metabolism-enhancing effects.

Research shows taking prescription weight management medications as part of a lifestyle program can result in losing 3% to 12% more of the starting body weight. Certain medications can lead to a weight loss of 10% or more, but results may differ. However, one can lose the same weight without fearing complications by following a healthy and balanced diet and making some lifestyle changes.

Weight Loss Medications: What Do They Do?

Weight loss medications can help people manage their weight. Yet, it’s essential to understand what they do and how they work before taking them. Generally, weight loss medications work by:

Decreasing Appetite

Some medications can make you feel less hungry and make it easier to stick to a calorie-restricted diet. Alternatively, you can increase your intake of fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to reduce your appetite. These foods keep you full for extended periods, reducing the urge to snack. Additionally, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep can also help reduce appetite.

Increasing Satiety

Some medications can make you feel fuller for longer, helping you eat less. However, protein-rich foods can also increase satiety. You can eat protein-rich foods like lean meats, fish, eggs, and beans. These foods make you feel fuller for longer, reducing the urge to eat more. Eating slowly and mindfully can also increase satiety, giving your body enough time to signal your brain that you’re full.

Read More: Protein For Weight Loss- What You Need To Know For Success

Boosting Metabolism

Some medications can increase your body’s metabolism, helping you burn more calories throughout the day. However, exercise can boost your metabolism and build lean muscle mass. For example, aerobic activities like running, biking, or swimming can increase metabolism for several hours after exercise. In addition, strength training exercises like weightlifting or bodyweight exercises can also help build lean muscle mass, which increases metabolism at rest.

Reducing the Absorption of Dietary Fat

Some medications can reduce the amount of dietary fat your body absorbs, leading to fewer calories stored as fat. To reduce the absorption of dietary fat, reduce your intake of high-fat foods like fried foods, fast foods, and processed snacks. Additionally, eating more fibre-rich foods can help reduce the absorption of dietary fat. Soluble fibre, in particular, can bind to dietary fat in your gut, making it less available for absorption.


Weight loss medications can help individuals manage their weight by decreasing appetite, increasing satiety, boosting metabolism, or reducing the absorption of dietary fat. However, one can achieve similar results through natural ways such as consuming a fibre-rich diet, protein-rich foods, exercising, and reducing the intake of high-fat foods. These dietary and lifestyle changes can help individuals reduce their appetite, increase satiety, boost metabolism, and reduce the absorption of dietary fat without relying on weight loss medications.

Types of Weight Loss Medications

Different weight loss medications that work in various ways are available today.

Prescription Medications

Some medications are only available with a prescription, while others may be available over the counter. Some prescription medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating obesity and controlling weight. Examples include bupropion, orlistat, and phentermine.

OTC Medications

Some weight loss medications are available over the counter, meaning you don’t need a prescription to purchase them. These medications typically contain caffeine, guarana, and green tea extract to boost energy and metabolism. Examples of OTC medications include green coffee extract and garcinia cambogia.

A meta-analysis revealed that green coffee extract significantly reduced body mass index. However, Green coffee extract in OTC weight loss medicines can be unsafe, as it can cause side effects such as anxiety, headaches, and irregular heartbeat. Additionally, the quality and purity of the extract can be questionable.

Over-the-counter weight loss medications can adversely affect the body. These medications may lead to high blood pressure, heart palpitations, insomnia, and gastrointestinal problems. In addition, they can clash with other medicines, leading to adverse impacts on the body. Moreover, they may contain ingredients not adequately tested or regulated by the FDA, which can be detrimental. Lastly, these medications are shortcuts and cannot be healthy. Sustainable weight loss must happen through healthy eating and exercise.

Herbal Supplements

Herbal supplements often get marketed as natural weight loss aids. However, the FDA does not approve them. Examples of herbal supplements include Hoodia Gordonii, green tea extract, and bitter orange.

A study shows green tea extract improves body composition by decreasing exercise-induced changes in weight, waist-to-hip ratio, body mass index, and body fat percentage. But again, herbal supplements are not FDA regulated. Nevertheless, green tea extracts are a regular feature in herbal supplements for weight loss. Still, it is not entirely safe, and the quality and purity of the extract may need to be more consistent. In addition, it can lead to adverse health effects of green tea extract, including liver toxicity, kidney failure, etc. 

Some supplements contain high levels of caffeine, which can cause insomnia, anxiety, and other side effects. Also, studies show that there is currently insufficient evidence supporting herbal medicines for weight loss.

Are Weight Loss Medications Safe?

Weight loss medications can be safe if taken as directed by a doctor. Please avoid self-medication and do not opt for OTC or herbal medicines. Consulting a doctor before starting a weight loss medication regimen is extremely essential. It is because improper use can lead to potentially dangerous outcomes. During the consultation, you should discuss any allergies or pre-existing health conditions that could interact with the medication.

Are Weight Loss Medications Suitable for All?

Weight loss medications can effectively achieve weight loss goals, but one should not use them as a quick fix. It is also essential to approach weight-loss drugs under the supervision of a registered physician to reduce the risk of health complications.

Experts state that the results vary depending on the drug, its dosage, and the individual taking the medication. In addition, it is essential to continue exercising, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress.

Who Should Totally Avoid Weight Loss Medications?

Weight loss medications do not suit everyone, and some groups of people should avoid taking them altogether. For example, pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use weight loss medications as it can harm the baby. People with specific medical conditions such as liver or kidney failure, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and intestinal disorders should also avoid taking weight loss medications as they can worsen their condition and lead to serious health complications. It is essential to always consult with a registered physician before taking any medication to avoid potential risks or adverse effects.


Weight loss medications can be safe for some people if taken under the guidance of a doctor, but they should not be used as a quick fix. Although these medications can help control calorie intake, decrease overall body weight and reduce hunger cravings, they can also harm your health. Hence, one should choose a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a balanced diet. It is also essential to avoid self-medication, and only people with severe obesity should opt for prescription-only drugs after consulting a doctor. In addition, pregnant or breastfeeding women and people with some medical conditions such as liver or kidney failure, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and intestinal disorders should avoid taking weight loss medications altogether.

Potential Side Effects of Weight Loss Medications

Weight loss medications can have a range of potential side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth

Serious Complications

Weight loss medications can cause serious complications, such as:

  • Jaundice
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Interference with normal bodily functions
  • Reduction in the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals

Risks of Long-term Use and Dependency

While weight loss medications can be safe to use in the short-term, long-term use may lead to adverse effects and increase the risk of dependency.


Weight loss medications can cause various side effects, ranging from minor symptoms such as nausea, constipation, and headaches to severe complications like liver damage and heart attack and stroke risk. Furthermore, long-term use of these medications can lead to dependency and adverse effects.

What Should You Know Before Taking Weight Loss Medications?

Before deciding to take any weight loss medication, one should consider the following:

  • What is my current weight?
  • What is my target weight, and how soon do I want to achieve it?
  • What type of diet and exercise plan am I willing to commit to?
  • What are the potential risks associated with taking weight loss medications?

It is best to talk to a health coach and chart a path to keep you healthy in the long run.

HealthifyMe Suggestion

Weight loss medications are often quick and easy solutions for shedding pounds. However, they only offer short-term weight loss; one should not rely on them as the only answer to achieving weight loss goals. Additionally, healthy eating and regular exercise are necessary for success. Weight loss medications do not address the root cause of weight gain. Therefore, identifying and addressing underlying factors is crucial for long-term weight loss.

The Final Word

Weight loss medications can be an effective way to jump-start your journey to a healthier lifestyle. However, whether you take weight loss medication or not, changing your lifestyle is the key to weight loss and management. You must adopt good habits and make positive, lifelong diet and exercise routine changes. Finally, talking to your doctor and considering the potential risks of taking any weight loss medication is essential. Everyone is different, so discuss weight loss medications’ potential risks and benefits with your physician before making final decisions.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information, please contact our certified nutritionists Here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What are weight loss medications? 

A. Weight loss medications help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight by suppressing appetite or targeting fat storage and metabolic pathways. Most commonly prescribed weight loss medications under the guidance of a physician include lorcaserin, naltrexone-bupropion, orlistat, liraglutide, phentermine, Contrave, and Saxenda.

Q. How do weight loss medications work? 

A. Weight loss medications suppress appetite or slow food and fat absorption. Appetite suppressants make you feel full and reduce cravings by releasing neurotransmitters. Absorption blockers minimise calorie intake by blocking enzymes that break down food and fat in the stomach.

Q. Who can use weight loss medications? 

A. Weight loss medications suit overweight or obese individuals with difficulty losing weight despite lifestyle changes. It is crucial to consult with a doctor beforehand.

Q. Are weight loss medications safe? 

A. Weight loss medications can be safe with proper doctor guidance and prescription. However, improper use can lead to dangerous outcomes. So discussing allergies or health conditions during a consultation is essential. 

Q. What are the potential side effects of weight loss medications? 

A. Weight loss medications can cause side effects like nausea, constipation, headache, dizziness, anxiety, and insomnia. In addition, they can lead to severe complications such as liver damage, heart attacks, strokes, and interference with normal bodily functions. Long-term use of these medications can also increase the risk of dependency.

Q. How long should I take weight loss medications? 

A. Weight loss medications approved by the FDA are typically for short-term use of 12 weeks or less. Still, the duration can vary with the healthcare provider’s approval. However, one should stop them immediately if the prescribing doctor and patient decide it is no longer necessary or appropriate.

Q. Can weight loss medications be used alongside other weight loss methods? 

A. It is essential to consult a doctor before using weight loss medications. One must have these medicines alongside lifestyle changes, not as a substitute for diet and exercise. 

Q. Do weight loss medications work for everyone? 

A. Weight loss medications can be effective in assisting with weight loss. However, their results vary depending on the drug, dosage, and individual. Therefore, before taking any weight loss medication, you must consult a healthcare professional and understand the potential risks. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle is a safe and more sustainable way to lose weight.

Q. How much weight can I expect to lose with weight loss medications? 

A. When taking weight loss medications for a year, you can expect to lose some weight loss. However, the risks can be problematic and more significant than the weight-loss results. Hence, following a healthy diet and lifestyle changes is the best way to get sustainable results.

Q. Do I need a prescription to obtain weight loss medications?

A. Yes, weight loss medications are prescription medications that require a doctor’s prescription to obtain. These medications work in various ways, including suppressing appetite or targeting fat storage and metabolic pathways. Some commonly prescribed weight loss medications include lorcaserin, naltrexone-bupropion, orlistat, liraglutide, phentermine, Contrave, and Saxenda.

Research Sources

1. National Institute of Health


2. Gorji Z, Varkaneh HK, Talaei S, Nazary-Vannani A, Clark CCT, Fatahi S, Rahmani J, Salamat S, Zhang Y. The effect of green-coffee extract supplementation on obesity: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Phytomedicine. 2019 Oct;63:153018. DoI: 10.1016/j.phymed.2019.153018. Epub 2019 Jul 5. Erratum in: Phytomedicine. 2020 Mar;68:153199. PMID: 31398662.


3. Bagheri R, Rashidlamir A, Ashtary-Larky D, Wong A, Alipour M, Motevalli MS, Chebbi A, Laher I, Zouhal H. Does green tea extract enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of exercise on fat loss? Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2020 Apr;86(4):753-762. doi: 10.1111/bcp.14176. Epub 2020 Feb 4. PMID: 31747468; PMCID: PMC7098875.


4. Maunder A, Bessell E, Lauche R, Adams J, Sainsbury A, Fuller NR. Effectiveness of herbal medicines for weight loss: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2020 Jun;22(6):891-903. DoI: 10.1111/dom.13973. Epub 2020 Feb 15. PMID: 31984610.


About the Author

M.Sc in: Dietetics and Applied Nutrition from Manipal University. Worked: All over India and have been involved in helping set up nutrition departments in start ups. Interested in lifestyle based nutrition. Mantra: A healthy lifestyle isn't a choice to be made or discarded, it's a way of life!

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