Diet drugs are medications that help people lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Though there are a lot of pills and supplements that claim to help people lose weight, only a handful of medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for legal sale in the United States.
Overview of Diet Drugs
Diet drugs do not have a good recent history in the United States. In the late 1990s, a popular drug known as "fen-phen" was pulled from the market because of concerns over heart valve damage and lung problems related to its use. Currently, only a few diet drugs are available legally. One is known as orlistat, sold over-the-counter as Alli and with a prescription as Xenical. This drug blocks fat absorption in the intestine to help people lose weight.
In 2012, two new diet drugs gained FDA approval. Both are appetite suppressants: Qsymia and Belviq.
Benefits and Risks
Though these drugs have been shown in studies to help with weight loss, each carries a number of risks. For example, orlistat has been linked to severe liver injury in rare instances. Qsymia might be dangerous for those with heart disease, thyroid disease or glaucoma. Belviq seemed to be safer overall in clinical studies, but it has been linked to heart problems, mood disorders and potentially dangerous interactions with other medications. The overall weight loss from the drug was fairly small as well. None of these drugs are safe for use during pregnancy.
The bottom line appears to be that diet drugs are not a "magic pill" for weight loss, and they are most effective when paired with increased exercise and healthier eating habits. The drugs also pose additional risks for teens, who are still growing and maturing. Most health experts agree that the best path to safe and healthy weight loss is to do so naturally through changes to diet and activity levels.
SOURCES: U.S. Food and Drug Administration; American Academy of Pediatrics