4 FDA-Approved Weight Loss Drugs and How They Work

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4 FDA-Approved Weight Loss Drugs and How They Work

There are a multitude of ways to approach weight loss. From the 12-3-30 workout to intermittent fasting, counting calories, and clean eating, each week brings a new health trend that the Internet goes crazy for. For example, a previous article on the almost instant ‘Benefits of Clean Eating’ discussed the merits of this approach. This method involves eating whole foods and cutting all processed foods to improve sleep, endurance, and recovery time. But while eating healthy can help with losing weight, for some people weight loss can feel impossible no matter what diet or workout they try.

Diet and exercise interventions to reduce obesity are potentially cost-effective but have a negligible impact on the total body weight-related disease burden, one study reports. In this instance, weight loss drugs can prove to be useful. Researcher Robert Kushner is involved in clinical trials for weight loss medication and has noted that drugs like semaglutide are not just for weight loss, but can also reduce the associated risk of chronic illnesses.

To further understand how these medications work and whether they’re right for you, here’s an overview of four FDA-approved prescription medications for treating obesity.

Xenical (Orlistat)

Xenical is the brand name for a weight loss drug that comes in capsule form manufactured by H2-Pharma. The active ingredient called orlistat promotes weight loss by decreasing the amount of dietary fat absorbed in your intestines. Taking the drug with a meal inhibits an enzyme, lipase, that breaks down fat. Instead of your body storing that fat, about 25% of it is passed through bowel movements.

A study from StatPearls investigating the effectiveness of orlistat found the drug to be capable of lowering body weight, BMI, cholesterol levels, and waist circumference. However, some patients discontinued use due to the adverse gastrointestinal effects of the drug. In addition, clinicians must be cautious when prescribing orlistat to patients with diabetes, HIV, epilepsy, and blood coagulation disorder.

Wegovy (Semaglutide)


This once-a-week injectable is manufactured by Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company based in Denmark. To meet ever-growing demand, they work with a contract manufacturer, ThermoFisher. Semaglutide mimics a gut hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). It regulates appetite and glucose levels, leading to reduced hunger and increased satiety. As a result, people can eat less and not be bothered by hunger and cravings.

But there’s a catch. Wegovy must be used throughout a lifetime to keep reaping the benefits. One study found that discontinued use led to people regaining the weight they’ve lost.

Saxenda (Liraglutide)

Novo Nordisk is also the manufacturer behind the once-daily injectable drug known as Saxenda. There are certain characteristics that Saxenda shares with Wegovy. They both come in the form of injectables that signal satiety. And they both mimic the GLP-1 hormone our bodies naturally produce, which helps to regulate our appetite. The decision to take Saxenda vs. Wegovy may ultimately come down to personal preference, medical history, and availability.

Currently, there is a shortage of both Saxenda and Wegovy due to the surging demand for weight loss medications. Pharmaceutical news outlets report that the shortages may go on until the end of 2023.

Contrave (Bupropion-Naltrexone)

In 2014, Orexigen Therapeutics, Inc.’s Contrave was approved for the treatment of obesity in adults with at least one weight-related comorbidity. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, while bupropion is a dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. These two active ingredients target areas of the brain that are tied to cravings and an urge to eat. Contrave also prevents dopamine from being released when eating, thus decreasing your appetite.

It’s noteworthy to mention that Contrave contains an active ingredient used in antidepressants. Antidepressants can sometimes paradoxically increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Keep in mind that all four of these medications must be used in conjunction with a nutritionally balanced, reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity. These medications are simply tools to reinforce healthy habits and enhance the likelihood of successful weight loss. Always consult a healthcare professional before starting any weight loss medication. They can assess your specific situation, comorbidities, and determine if medication is appropriate.

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