What We’re Learning About the Safety and Side Effects of Weight Loss Drugs

What We’re Learning About the Safety and Side Effects of Weight Loss Drugs

More people are turning to medications in the quest for effective weight loss solutions. With promises of helping people lose weight faster and improving health, these medications have been receiving more and more attention.

But figuring out which one to choose can be overwhelming, as there are many options with different levels of effectiveness, safety, and side effects.

In this blog, we uncover what we have learned about weight loss drugs according to research, including how they work, advantages, and safety considerations. We dive into topics like how they affect cardiovascular and mental health, their long-term effects, and common side effects.

Understanding Weight Loss Medications

Weight loss medications are medicines intended to help people lose weight. They have different mechanisms of action to make you feel less hungry, absorb fewer nutrients from food, or burn more calories.

Today, there are a handful of anti-obesity medications approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of obesity—orlistat, phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), naltrexone-bupropion, liraglutide (Saxenda), semaglutide (Wegovy), Imcivree (setmelanotide), and tirzepatide (Zepbound).1,2,3,4

Healthcare providers usually recommend them for people who have difficulty losing weight with diet and exercise alone, especially those with obesity or related health issues, such as type 2 diabetes.

Who Can Take Weight Loss Medications?

Weight loss medications are often suggested for people who have tried diet and exercise but still struggle to lose weight. These medications might be right for you if:5

1. You have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, which shows obesity, or a BMI of 27 or higher with health issues related to obesity, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or sleep apnea.
2. You've tried to lose weight by changing your lifestyle but haven't seen the results you hoped for.
3. You're willing to keep making healthy changes to your lifestyle, like eating well and being more active.
4. You don't have any outstanding reasons or health problems that would make taking weight loss medications risky; they might be safe for you to try.

While they can be helpful for managing weight, it's essential to know they're not a quick fix and should be used alongside healthy lifestyle habits. Always take weight loss medications under a healthcare provider's guidance to ensure they're safe and effective for your unique needs.

Do Weight Loss Drugs Replace Physical Activity and Healthy Eating?

Weight loss drugs aren't meant to take the place of exercise and healthy eating. They can help with weight management by curbing hunger, reducing calorie intake, or boosting metabolism.5

But for the best results, it's important to combine them with regular physical activity and a balanced diet.6 These healthy habits are essential for keeping weight off in the long run and staying healthy overall. So, think of weight loss drugs as something that works together with a healthy lifestyle, not a substitute for it.

The Role of Protein

During active weight loss, prioritizing protein in the form of lean protein foods and high-quality supplements can help ensure that you shed more fat than muscle.7*

Research has shown that in order to slow the potential loss of lean body mass while using anti-obesity medications, it is recommended to consume a minimum of 60 grams of high-quality protein daily. This suggestion can vary significantly based on individual needs.8

Safety Considerations

Ensuring the safety of weight loss medications is paramount. Recent studies and clinical trials have shed light on several aspects:

Cardiovascular Health

One area of concern has been the potential impact of weight loss medications on cardiovascular health. However, most, if not all, anti-obesity medications that caused cardiovascular concerns have been taken off the market.9

It is still important to carefully assess cardiovascular risks associated with these medications, especially in individuals with pre-existing heart conditions.

Mental Health

Another crucial aspect is the impact on mental health. Some weight loss medications may affect mood or exacerbate underlying mental health conditions.10

Understanding these potential risks is essential for healthcare providers when prescribing these medications.

Long-Term Effects

It's important to keep looking into the safety of weight loss drugs over time. We need to understand more about what happens when people use them for a long time.

Anti-obesity medications for long-term weight management should be chosen carefully, based on each person's health issues and what they prefer.11 

Common Side Effects of Weight Loss Medications

Weight loss medications can also be associated with various side effects, ranging from mild to severe. Some common side effects include:5

  • Digestive issues, including diarrhea, gas, and constipation
  • Muscle loss
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased heart rate

While many of these side effects are manageable, severe adverse reactions underscore the importance of close monitoring and individualized treatment plans.


As more people seek ways to lose weight, it's important to think carefully about using medications.

While weight loss drugs promise faster results and better health, there are many options with different levels of effectiveness and safety. While these medications can be helpful, they're not the only answer and should be used with healthy habits like exercise and eating well.

Safety is crucial, so it's essential for research to continue evaluating weight loss drugs to make sure they're safe and effective for each person. With these factors in mind, you can make informed choices and make the most of your weight loss journey while staying healthy overall.


1. Idrees Z et al. Cureus. 2022;14(9):e29262.
2. FDA. 2021. New release accessed from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-drug-treatment-chronic-weight-management-first-2014.
3. FDA. 2022. New release accessed from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/news-events-human-drugs/fda-approves-treatment-weight-management-patients-bardet-biedl-syndrome-aged-6-or-older.
4. FDA. 2023. News release accessed from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-medication-chronic-weight-management.
5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK). 2023. Accessed from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/prescription-medications-treat-overweight-obesity.
6. Dalle Grave R. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2024;17:227–230.
7. Longland TM et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103(3):738-746.
8. Wadden TA et al. Curr Obes Rep. 2023;12(4):453–473.
9. Bramante CT et al. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2019;10:883.
10. Arillotta D et al. Brain Sci. 2023;13(11):1503.
11. Tak YJ et al. Curr Obes Rep. 2021;10(1):14–30.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

This blog is for information and education purposes only. This information is not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with a qualified healthcare provider with any questions in regard to a medical condition. A qualified healthcare professional can best assist you in deciding whether a dietary supplement is suitable based on your individual needs.


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