New Weight Loss Drugs: More Harm Than Good

With obesity being viewed as more of a "disease" than as the result of how we treat our bodies, it's tempting to reach for a pill to cure the problem. But, as with fad diets and quick weight-loss fixes, Qsymia and Belviq are not the answer we've been looking for.
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We've all been there: You can't fit into your favorite jeans. You can't stand the way you look in that dress. You desperately want to lose weight -- even if it's just five pounds -- but everything you try fails. You're frustrated, demoralized, and ready to take drastic measures. More exercise? I don't have time! Calorie restriction? Haven't I suffered enough? Liposuction? No thanks. A prescription pill? Now that doesn't sound so bad...

Well, I can tell you the new prescription weight loss drugs Qsymia and Belviq are not the miracles that drug-makers are making them out to be. After attending a conference this summer and being told that "We now have the answer for the millions of overweight people in America," I had lots of questions and decided to investigate for myself. The answers I came up with aren't at all as exciting as drug companies promised.

Weight Loss, But At A Great Cost

According to, Qsymia (a combination of phentermine, an appetite suppressant, and topiramate, a seizure medication), can "be habit-forming." Patients are warned to, "Keep the medication in a secure place where others cannot get to it." A common side-effect (and this is not even one of the bad ones!) is blurred vision and impaired thinking and reactions (1).

Belviq, on the other hand, imitates the effects of serotonin to promote an increased sense of fullness. But you should know that the European health regulators did not approve this drug due to concerns about cancer and heart-related issues (2). On top of these worries, both Qsymia and Belviq are to be used alongside diet and exercise. So that "easy" pill you were planning to pop to lose weight isn't all that easy!

So how much weight can you actually lose with these medications? Not very much, and in my opinion, not enough to risk your health. Those taking Qsymia for one whole year lost about 9 percent more than those taking a placebo -- and it's even worse for Belviq. Belviq patients lost only about 3 percent more than those who took a placebo. Besides, so far the drug companies say these medications can only be prescribed to people who are largely overweight, not those of us who want to lose five or 10 pounds. This is the weight loss miracle we've been waiting for? Please!

Lose Weight With No Side-Effects

I've been practicing medicine for a long time (almost 30 years!) and I've helped thousands of women lose weight. One of my patients came in to the clinic the other day and she had recently lost over 70 pounds. In the clinic, my success rate for helping women lose weight and keep it off is 98 percent, which is a huge difference from the national average at 6 percent. There is no magic bullet for dropping weight, but there is a multi-pronged approach that works safely and effectively for most women. And instead of adding risks to your health, with this technique you get the added bonus of improving your health at that same time!

Here's a brief overview of my approach:

Investigate underlying systemic imbalances. There are many potential health imbalances that can lead to stubborn weight, such as hormonal imbalance, sluggish thyroid, insulin resistance, stress/adrenal imbalance, food sensitivities, or impaired detoxification. These imbalances can affect your metabolism and block weight loss even while you're cutting calories and exercising more. Getting to the bottom of your weight issues by finding the source of the trouble (rather than taking a prescription) helps you lose weight, improves your health, AND makes for lasting weight loss.

Fuel your metabolism. What you eat has tremendous impact on your weight, but popular magazines and even some well-meaning practitioners often give women the wrong information. For example, fat is NOT the enemy when it comes to losing weight. Good quality fats like those you get from avocados, salmon, walnuts, and olive oil give us the raw materials to make the hormones we need, while also triggering the message in the brain after we eat them that we're full. I always suggest a whole-food, plant-based diet, aiming for about 16 grams carbohydrates per meal and 7 grams of carbohydrate for snack. There are also some great natural metabolism boosters, like B vitamins, chromium picolinate, cinnamon, green tea, alpha-lipoic acid and more. (For help with intense cravings you might try supplementing with the natural form of 5-HTP, which is a natural precursor to serotonin.)

Exercise the way you choose. Don't get caught up in thinking you have to run on the treadmill or go to the gym. Do what you love, whether that's dancing in your living room, working in your garden or simply taking the stairs at work. Just moving your body can send all kinds of positive signals to boost your metabolism. And exercise is suggested with both Qysmia and Belviq anyway, so get moving!

Acknowledge your past and present relationship with food. Many of us "come to the table" with all kinds of food baggage. In many cases we learn as children that food is equated with love and this is generally why eating is so comforting to most of us. We reward ourselves with treats and snacks and we also turn to these comfort foods when we have a bad day or feel badly about ourselves. The neurochemistry of these connections can run deep and you may find it helpful to address these issues with a practitioner or counselor.

Prioritize restoration. Getting a good night's sleep is a very easy and enjoyable way to keep your weight at a healthy level. Studies show that those who get between seven and eight hours of sleep per night eat less and have better insulin regulation. Find ways to slow down and refill your cup. Getting a good night sleep is one way, but so is incorporating more fun in your life -- and spending at least fifteen minutes a day doing something you absolutely love helps too.

With obesity being viewed as more of a "disease" than as the result of how we treat our bodies, it's tempting to reach for a pill to cure the problem. But, as with fad diets and quick weight-loss fixes, Qsymia and Belviq are not the answer we've been looking for. For lasting weight loss, taking a holistic approach and sticking with it is best.


1. 2012. Qsymia. URL:

Nainggolan, L. 2013. New Obesity Drug, Belviq, in US Pharmacies Next Week. URL:

2. Grohol, JM. 2012. Qsymia and Belviq Drugs for Obesity, Weight loss. PsychCentral. URL:

For more by Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN, NP, click here.

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