Harvard Women's Health Watch

Keeping weight-loss drugs in perspective

If you're dangerously overweight, diet pills may help — but not without major lifestyle changes.

Diet drugs have gotten a lot of press lately. In January 2006, a federal advisory panel recommended that the FDA make available, over the counter, a popular prescription weight-loss medication, orlistat (Xenical). The FDA usually takes the panel's advice, but approval of the orlistat (which would be called Alli) is not a sure thing. Many question the drug's effectiveness in a broader setting; others worry about its side effects. Considerable excitement surrounds rimonabant (Acomplia), a type of weight-loss drug that works by blocking the same receptors in the brain that cause the "munchies" in marijuana users. Rimonabant reduces weight, quiets food cravings, and improves cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease, including waist circumference.

We certainly need new weight-loss solutions. Two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese and at risk for several major medical conditions as well as for premature death. Even modest weight loss can reduce these risks. But as most of us know, losing weight can be extremely difficult, and keeping it off even more so. Most people who shed pounds regain them within five years. Little wonder that there's intense interest in drugs to boost weight-loss efforts.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »