Excitement over breakthrough drugs in the treatment of obesity, hopeful to enter the market over the next few years, may be short-lived due to possible side effects.
Throughout history, one of the greatest challenges man faced was finding enough food to satisfy the body’s demand for energy. In contrast, our greatest task now is keeping excess weight at bay.
Statistics show that at least one in three adults in the US is classed as obese, which is mirrored worldwide. Carrying excess weight increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer, as well as burdening the economy. With a rise in obesity, there has never been a greater demand for a ‘quick fix’ for weight loss.
Currently, no ideal weight loss treatment exists that comes unburdened with side effects. Early weight loss remedies stretch as far back as the 1800’s, when arsenic and pills containing soap were used to slim down, with side effects such as vomiting and convulsions. Amphetamines later became popular due to their actions curbing appetites and boosting activity levels, but this was short lived due to the development of heart problems.
Drugs have come onto the market since the 1930’s, but few have stayed the distance. One drug, Orlistat, blocked fat absorption in the gut producing a modest weight loss, but was tarred by side effects.
Qnexa, one of the hopeful candidates set to reach clinics in the near future, is a combination of two drug compounds with dangerous side effects, that when combined, lowers the risk. In a yearlong trial, patients taking the drug lost on average 9.3 percent of their total body weight, a significant loss.
Another drug, Lorcaserin, set to come onto the market if approved by the FDA, works by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain, shown to produce a 3.6 percent loss of body weight.
Whilst both these drugs look set to reach the clinic in the near future, a new class of drugs is upcoming which offers less broad effects, by mimicking hormones in the gut to regulate appetite. They work by telling the brain to slow down the speed that food moves through the gut, making you feel fuller for longer, leading to an average loss of six percent total body weight. However, research has found that these drugs may inflame the pancreas and may increase the risk of thyroid cancer.
The third and final class of upcoming drugs aims to boost metabolism and promote the depletion of fat stores, leading to weight loss.
Even if these drugs are found to be effective at reducing weight and are safe, there are other considerations. Although new research is pushing for the production of so called ‘diet-pills’, there is controversy as to whether they have a place in society. Many doctors believe that willpower, exercise and healthy eating are key to maintaining a healthy weight, with the use of weight loss drugs alongside simple lifestyle changes.
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