If you’re obese and are at the end of your ropes looking for weight loss help, there’s good news from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA in the past few months has approved two new weight loss drugs for people who struggle with obesity — Qsymia and Belviq.
It should be noted up-front that these drugs are meant for people who are obese — those with a BMI number 30 or greater. While doctors often prescribe drugs for conditions not specifically approved by the FDA (called “off-label” use), doctors are likely to be more conservative in prescribing these two drugs when they first become available because of their unfamiliarity with them.
Both drugs can also be prescribed to people who are overweight, with a BMI of 27 or more and at least one weight-related condition such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
Qsymia (pronounced kyoo-sim-EE-uh and manufactured by Vivus Pharmaceuticals) and Belviq (pronounced bel-VEEK and manufactured by Arena Pharmaceuticals) have been shown to be effective in their clinical trials to help people lose significant amounts of weight.
Qsymia appears to be the more effective weight loss medication. People taking Qsymia for up to one year had an average weight loss of nearly 9 percent over those taking an inactive placebo. Over 70 percent of people taking Qsymia lost at least 5 percent of their body weight (only 20 percent of patients taking an inactive placebo lost this much weight).
People taking Belviq had an average weight loss that was 3 to 3.7 percent greater than people taking placebo. After taking Belviq for one or two years, some 47 percent of people without diabetes lost at least 5% of their body weight (only 23 percent of patients taking an inactive placebo lost this much weight.)
Although likely to be expensive, both weight loss drugs will likely be approved by insurance companies for treatment of obesity or being overweight with other health conditions. Why? Because obesity is a serious chronic health problem affecting more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As such, it costs insurers a lot of money. In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion. Anything to bring those costs down is likely to become approved for payment by insurance companies.
How Do Qsymia and Belviq Work?
Qsymia combines two generic drugs in a new formulation. One half the drug is composed of the seizure and migraine medication called topiramate. Topiramate causes weight loss in several ways, including increasing feelings of fullness, making foods taste less appealing, and increasing calorie burning. The other half of Qsymia is the appetite-suppressant called phentermine. Phentermine is thought to suppress appetite by triggering release of a brain chemical that increases blood concentrations of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin.
Belviq, on the other hand, appears to work by turning on a specific chemical “switch” in the brain that increases levels of serotonin. It’s not clear exactly why this helps a person lose weight.
Who Can’t Take These Drugs?
As with all medications, certain people cannot take these medications.
- Pregnant or nursing women should not take either Belviq or Qsymia.
- People with glaucoma
- People who have been told they have an overactive thyroid
- People taking a type of antidepressant called a MAOI
- People allergic to phentermine or topiramate
- People taking drugs linked to valvular heart disease, such as cabergoline (Dostinex)
- People taking certain medicines for depression; migraine; the common cold; or mood, anxiety, psychotic, or thought disorders
- Men with conditions that predispose them to erections lasting more than four hours. These conditions include sickle cell anemia, multiple myeloma, and leukemia
- Men with a deformed penis
When Can I Get Them?
Qsymia will be available sometime after September 2012, while Belviq won’t be available until early-to-mid 2013.
As with any medication, talk to your doctor to see if this medication may be right for you. Tell your doctor if you are on any other medications, nutritional supplements (including vitamins), pregnant, nursing, or have any other health condition.