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Study Shows Some Weight Loss Medications Actually Work, But They're Not Cures


A recently-published study shows some weight loss medications actually do help, but they’re not cures. An expert in non-surgical weight loss at UT Southwestern Medical Center says users of the drugs need to be clear about what they’re taking.

Highlights from the interview with Dr. Jaime Almandoz, an Assistant Professor in UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Internal Medicine and an expert in non-surgical weight loss:

What the study found: “The study looked at data from randomized control trial which have been performed in the last ten years to see which weight loss medications are the most effective. Currently, the most effective weight loss medications that we have are either combination therapies of an older stimulant medication called phentermine with one called topiramate, which is used as an anti-seizure, anti-headache medication. And what they found is that these medications independently help people to lose weight by suppressing appetite or helping them feel fuller when they eat, but when they’re used in combination, they can be used in lower doses, usually with fewer side effects. And that helps people to suppress their appetite and feel fuller sooner, eat less and that kind of helps with that part of the energy balance equation.”

Should medication be used as a first step to lose weight? “I think the best approach is to get a good history on the patient in terms of what they’ve tried, what may have worked for them in the past, and find out what challenges they’ve had and start addressing those. I think unless you lay an excellent foundation of lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, physical activity as much as the patient can do it, weight loss medications aren’t going to be effective for a long period of time. What we know is when we have the patients on the medication, they do lose weight, and they typically will plateau after around six months. And when we take them off the medication, they regain probably most of the weight, if not all of it. (Sam: It’s a step, not a cure?) Exactly.”

Recommended first step to lose weight: “I think tracking what you’re eating, looking at your calorie intake, and making sure that you’re taking into consideration everything that crosses your lips. It’s very easy in a modern workplace, and the way in which our days are structured because we’re so busy, to not be mindful of what and how we’re eating. Many people will eat breakfast on the run in their car, or have lunch in front of their computer while they try to answer emails, or they’re eating dinner in front of the TV. It’s hard to keep track of what we’re eating or how many calories we’re ingesting if we’re either eating our food while we’re distracted, or we’re snacking between meals to give ourselves energy as we go on, or to give ourselves motivation as we go on doing the things we have to do in our days.”

For more information:

Report on weight-loss medicine 

Prescription Weight Loss / Diet Pills: What Are the Options? 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.