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Weight-loss pill Belviq is now available, but we say skip it

Weight-loss pill Belviq is now available, but we say skip it

A year after receiving approval by the Food and Drug Administration, you can finally get a prescription for the new weight-loss drug Belviq. But don’t. For one, it’s only approved for people who are obese, with a body-mass index of 30 or more, or who are overweight, with a BMI between 27 and 30, and also have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. And even then we advise you skip the drug, since it’s only modestly effective and poses some troubling risks.

Slim results. People who take the drug for a year can expect to lose just 3 to 3.7 percent of their weight, and may gain the weight back, research suggests. In one trial, patients taking Belviq did lose up to 5 percent of their body weight after 12 months, but gained back 25 percent of it by the end of the second year.

Risks galore. What’s more, the drug can cause several side effects including, headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, and constipation. If you have diabetes, add hypoglycemia, back pain, and a cough to that list. The drug’s label also states that Belviq may cause a slowed heartbeat, heart valve problems, painful erections, and if you take more than is prescribed, hallucinations, euphoria, and slowed thinking. Those last risks promoted the Drug Enforcement Agency to classify the drug as a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning that it poses a slight risk of dependence. Finally, Belviq may also interact adversely with other medications you take, such as drugs used to treat depression, migraines, or colds, and supplements, such as St. John’s wort and tryptophan.

The FDA’s advisory panel initially rejected Belviq because of a risk of tumors found in animal studies. And once approved last June, additional safety concerns delayed its release. Moreover, the European Medicines Agency was so concerned about the drug’s safety that it rejected the drug. The drug’s manufacturer, Arena Pharmaceuticals, recently withdrew its application for the drug’s use in Europe.

We’ve long cautioned against taking quick-fix weight-loss drugs like Belviq, and Qsymia–that was also approved by the FDA last year–as well as supplements, because their benefits are usually minimal, and their adverse effects can be troublesome. Instead, skip the pills, and lose weight the safer, tried-and-true way–by eating less and exercising. Read more about smarter ways to get to a healthier weight and find a diet plan that’s right for you.

Two new drugs for weight loss [The Medical Letter, September 3, 2012]
FDA approves Belviq to treat some overweight or obese adults [U.S. Food and Drug Administration, June 2012]
Weight loss drug Belviq gets overdue US launch [Associated Press, June 7, 2013]
Belviq: Highlights of prescribing information [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]

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