Remember Fen-Phen? It was the “magic bullet” weight loss drug that hit the market in the late 90’s, and was one of the only effective medicines ever released to help obese patients. People were losing up to 100 pounds or more due to the combination of Phentermine, a drug that supresses appetite and speeds metabolism, and Fenfluramine, a drug that worked on satiety signals in the brain. Shortly after Fen-Phen was introduced to the market, though, people began experiencing heart problems-specifically heart valve damage and primary pulmonary hypertension-and some of those people died from the health problems caused by the drug. Now, a new weight loss drug called Qsymia could offer hope for obesity, but the road to success for the medicine won’t be easy, both because of some people’s ignorance about obesity and because of the checkered past of every weight loss drug that has ever come to market.
Perhaps because of Fen-Phen’s terrible track record, and the history of weight loss drugs causing heart problems, it took the FDA over 15 years to approve another weight loss medicine after Fen-Phen was pulled from the shelves. Then, earlier this year, the FDA approved two medicines around the same time- Qsymia and Belviq. Belviq works in much the same way that Fenfluramine did- it stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain, inducing a feeling of satiety. This raised concerns that the drug may have some of the same negative cardiac risks as Fenfluramine, but it got the green light from the FDA anyway.
The other drug, Qsymia, is actually a combination of the safer half of the old Fen-Phen: Phentermine, and an anti-seizure drug that has been around for a long time-Topamax. In clinical studies, Qsymia outperformed Belviq, with more study subjects losing more body weight than in the placebo group.
But many physicians are not convinced about the safety of Qsymia even though it has undergone rigorous testing by the FDA. Citing potential heart problems, a possibility of raised blood pressure and increased stroke risk from Phentermine, some physicians don’t feel comfortable prescribing it at all.
Patients who have been struggling with their weight all of their lives feel differently, and say there are also risks involved that stem from being overweight. One woman achieved a weight loss of 50 pounds. “I fully believe diet and exercise are major factors,” said Meg Evans, who participated in the clinical trial. “The Qsymia helps me stem my appetite, but it’s not a magic bullet. I’m pretty sure I could take the Qsymia and still not lose any weight if I didn’t watch what I eat and exercise.”
Indeed, any weight loss medicine is a tool, not a miracle, but many obese individuals need a tool such as Qsymia to help them control their appetites, as most people struggling with weight may not even realize how much their physical hunger levels contribute to their problem. Many blame themselves, or “emotional eating,” for their size.
Another hurdle Qsymia is facing is the fact that obesity is certainly stigmatized in today’s society. For some reason, the people with the least amount of weight problems are always the ones that seem to offer the most advice, and all of it denigrates diet medicine. Thin people seem to really enjoy handing out unhelpful “wisdom” such as “Diet pills are dangerous! Put down the fork and get some exercise!” or “You don’t need weight loss pills! Just eat less and move more!” This ignorant stance shows just how little they know about what an obese person feels.
They ought to try strapping a 150-pound rock to their backs and see how painful it is to exercise. They also ought to fast for several days and then explore how good it feels to be lightheaded and dizzy, with a rumbling stomach, near fainting, while eating far fewer calories than the average person ingests.
But most of all, they ought to not speak of things about which they are vastly ignorant. For now, the weight loss drug Qsymia will continue to offer some hope, however modest, to obese individuals and hopefully assist them in leading happier, healthier lives.
By: Rebecca Savastio