Monday, July 2, 2012

A new diet pill hits the market

English: Logo of the U.S. Food and Drug Admini...
English: Logo of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2006) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The FDA put out a press release last week about the new diet pill, called "Belviq" (the generic name being lorcaserin hydrochloride).  This is the first diet pill approved by the FDA in 13 years.  Apparently, it works by adjusting the seratonin level in your brain to make you feel fuller with smaller portions, much like fen-phen but supposedly without the dangerous side effects.   However...if you read the press release carefully and actually do the math, I think you will be underwhelmed by it's purported effectiveness.  Here is the pertinent excerpt:

"The safety and efficacy of Belviq were evaluated in three randomized, placebo-controlled trials that included nearly 8,000 obese and overweight patients, with and without type 2 diabetes, treated for 52 to 104 weeks. All participants received lifestyle modification that consisted of a reduced calorie diet and exercise counseling. Compared with placebo, treatment with Belviq for up to one year was associated with average weight loss ranging from 3 percent to 3.7 percent."

So, if you do the math...Say you weigh 200 pounds.  The average weight loss in up to one year was 3-3.7 percent of one's body weight.  That is 6 to 7.4 pounds!  Seriously?!   In a year?!  Either there is a typo in the press release, I'm understanding it poorly or the truth is that this "weight management drug" is disappointingly ineffective.  One article I reviewed uses the excuse that this is an average, so there may have been participants who did really well on the drug and those who did not.  Even so, that is still a very small percentage of average weight lost for an extended amount of time.  Notice that study participants were also following a diet and exercise regimen.  The press release goes on to say that when prescribed, if the patient has not lost 5% of their body weight (for 200 lbs, that would be 10 lbs) in 12 weeks, then they recommend discontinuing the drug as it is unlikely to have meaningful weight loss results in these patients.  Ok, so 10 lbs in 12 weeks is a little better, however patients should be able to lose 12-24 pounds in 12 weeks without a diet drug and without feeling hungry, simply by practicing healthy eating and exercise habits.

Sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but from the press release, Belviq does not appear to be the next miracle weight loss cure. No, weight loss is not easy and weight loss drugs, whether FDA-approved or not tend to disappoint for various reasons.  Either they are not effective to begin with, they are effective but with terrible side effects or they are temporarily effective but the weight comes back on after you discontinue their use.  As always, the key to permanent weight loss is creating lifestyle changes that you can sustain over the long-term, to take the weight off and keep it off. 

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