Pills for Pounds

It is well established that excess body weight is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, and in some cases losing weight can make diabetes easier to control or — in exceptional cases — reverse Type 2 diabetes entirely. News stories with a medical perspective on weight loss often focus on bariatric (weight-loss) surgery, which has been the subject of four Diabetes Flashpoints posts this year.

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But the growing popularity of bariatric surgery has not sapped interest in a more old-fashioned idea: weight-loss drugs. A recent article in The New York Times outlines three new drugs that are being developed, as well as the history of weight-loss drugs — which contains many prominent failures. These include the popular combination pill fen-phen, which was discontinued in 1997 after being linked to heart-valve damage. Other drugs have recently failed to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or have been approved but failed to attain great popularity — possibly because they lead to an average loss of only 5% of body weight. One of the new drugs, in contrast, has been found to induce an average loss of 9% of body weight.

However, safety concerns remain, largely because of the problems associated with previous drugs of this type. Most clinical trials of the new drugs lasted only one year — possibly not long enough to detect adverse effects that could come after years of use. Also because of the limited duration of the trials, it is unknown whether the weight loss these drugs cause is sustainable after a year.

What do you think — would you be interested in taking a drug to lose weight, even if the results were modest? Have you tried taking drugs or supplements for weight loss already? Would you prefer to try a drug for weight loss before deciding to have bariatric surgery? And given their track record so far, how much energy do you think should be devoted to developing drugs of this type? Leave a comment below!

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