Is There a “Magic Pill” For Weight Loss?

Since the AMA has classified obesity as a disease, will there be a cure?

I’m sure the AMA had good intentions. Once classified as a disease, there may be more money spent on research, education and insurance coverage.
The number of overweight and obese men, women and children has been increasing steadily since the health craze began in the 80’s. Over the past several years we have seen initiatives, studies, reports, programs, task forces, agencies, guidelines, screenings, and counseling. We freely admit there is a problem, but seem unable fix it. So much money had been spent over the years to find out why people are gaining weight and how to remove the responsibility from the true causes.

Who’s responsible?
There’s no doubt that we make bad food choices and don’t exercise enough. But, there are many other causes also. Food additives, medications, genetics, and stress are contributing factors. There is no single reason for weight gain. Agricultural subsidies from the government should promote healthier foods instead of cheaper foods. Food labels should be truthful. The chemicals and additives in processed foods have side effects – we need to know what they are and what they do. We need REAL truth in advertising and junk food should not be marketed to children. Healthy food should not cost more than processed garbage masquerading as food.

Two drugs have recently been approved by the AMA as obesity drugs.
The magic pill – I think not!
Qsymia and Belviq are available by prescription as obesity drugs.

How does the FDA approve drugs you may ask?
First, a drug company creates, designs, concocts a drug and then tests it themselves. Then, the drug company sends evidence of the safety and effectiveness of the drug (that they tested themselves) to the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. A team of experts at the CDER reviews the material sent from the drug company. The CDER does not test the drugs themselves but conducts limited research.

So, how safe and effective are these drugs?

Belviq is an appetite suppressing drug that may be habit forming. It is manufactured by a Japanese pharmaeceutical company for distribution in the United States. Belviq adjusts the serotonin levels in the brain and can interact with prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal products. It is not to be used by pregnant women, women who plan to become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children under the age of 18. While results may vary, the average weight loss is approximately 12-20 lbs. in a year. The trials performed by the drug company included a modified diet and an exercise plan. The side effects can range from mild to severe. (dizziness, fatigue, constipation, headache, nausea, dry mouth, hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of face-lips-tongue-throat, unusual thoughts or behavior, feelings of being outside your body, thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself, agitation, fever, rapid heart rate, fast or uneven heartbeat, tremors, slow heart rate, shortness of breath, swelling in hands or feet, trouble concentrating, memory loss, hallucinations, body aches, flu symptoms, back pain, sores in mouth and throat, breast swelling in men and women, nipple discharge, erection lasting more than 4 hours, painful erection, and depression)

Qsymia works much in the same way. It contains phentermine (the less harmful drug in phen-phen) to suppress appetite and topiramate (an anticonvulsant and migraine medication) which increases the feeling of being full and makes food taste less appetizing. The average weight loss on Qsymia is 22-28 lbs. over a year. Qsymia has not been studied in combination with insulin – hmmmm. The trials of this drug also included a modified diet and exercise plan. The drug should not be taken by pregnant women as it can cause fetal harm. The side effects range from mild to severe. (paraesthesia, dizziness, dysgeusia, insomnia, constipation, dry mouth, pounding heart, fluttering in chest, blurred vision, eye pain, halos around lights, glaucoma, severe low back pain, red or pink urine, feelings of thirst, inability to urinate, heavy sweating, hot-dry skin, mood disorders, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or behavior, impaired concentration, difficult with memory-speech-language, low blood sugar which can cause headaches-hunger-weakness-sweating-confusion-jitters-irritability-dizziness-fast heart rate, low potassium levels which can cause confusion-uneven heart rate-extreme thirst-increased urination-leg discomfort, dangerously high blood pressure which can cause severe headaches-blurred vision-shortness of breath-seizures-buzzing in ears-anxiety-confusion-chest pain).

The estimated cost of each of these drugs is expected to be about $200 per month. Some insurances will cover most of the cost. The FDA is requiring 6 post-market studies including a trial to assess the long term risk of heart attack or stroke. So it seems that we are to be the guinea pigs.

Who benefits from the release of these drugs?

Pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions.

Treating obesity as a disease will drive up healthcare costs which are passed onto the people, will remove personal responsibility for our choices, will remove the responsibility of our government to subsidize healthy foods and provide parks and recreation areas, will eliminate accountability of food companies for manipulating the salt, sugar and fat content of our foods and for being untruthful in their labeling and marketing. This may also cause more people to seek medical intervention through expensive and risky treatment or surgery and may also cause more people to seek disability status.

Somehow, the classification of obesity as a disease doesn’t sound like a good idea.

The Magic Bullet for Weight Loss

The latest trend in weight loss is the new “Magic Bullet” gastric balloon. Gastric balloons used for weight loss have been available for some time. This new balloon is a little different.

Previous balloons are placed in the stomach and filled with liquid. They take up space in the stomach and give the feeling of fullness. There are side effects such as discomfort and a breakdown of the balloon which could cause a blockage in the intestines. Usually, these balloons are used for approximately 6 months and provide significant weight loss. The new Obalon balloon is hailed as the “Magic Bullet”. It is a made of a “novel polymer” that resists breaking down in the stomach and is filled with an “inert gas” (most likely nitrogen). The Obalon balloon is about the size of a large vitamin and is swallowed. Once in the stomach it is inflated to the size of an apple. A new balloon can be swallowed each 30 days until there are 3 balloons. The recommended course of treatment is 90 days and then the balloons are removed. The treatment includes 90 minutes per day of exercise and healthy eating choices. Healthy foods are critical as patients can eat no more than a small plate of food each day – much like gastric bypass or banding. The cost is approximately $4000 and the treatment is not available in the United States. In fact, there are only 9 countries that have allowed this treatment so far – Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, and Mexico. The Obalon company estimates the weight loss to be 20 lbs. in 3 months (less than 2 lbs. per week) but other reviews state 17 lbs. over 3 months. There are, however, no side effects other than some discomfort during the first few days.

Sounds great! Doesn’t it? Just swallow this balloon and eat less to lose weight.  This truly is magic.

Magic is an illusion – it’s not real. The initial weight loss may be real but there’s no plan to keep the weight off. You can’t keep the balloons for the rest of your life. The hope is, that while the balloons are in place, you will learn to make healthy, low-calorie food choices and incorporate exercise into your routine to maintain the weight loss.

The reality is that gastric balloons are no better than any other “fad” diet. The potential to regain the weight (and more) is overwhelming.

Gastric balloons take up space in the stomach to produce a “full” feeling, but, they don’t decrease the levels of ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”). So, you’ll feel full and still be hungry. This doesn’t make sense! Do you eat because you’re hungry and then feel overfull? Overeating causes the stomach to stretch so that we can eat more. When the balloons are removed there will be a lot of room for lots of food. How can that be good for you? Healthy, low-calorie food choices are the best way to eat all the time. If you haven’t learned how to eat during the 12 weeks with the balloons, how will you deal with it when the balloons are removed. I don’t live on a farm and there is no all-natural, organic produce stand on my way home from work. The supermarkets have limited organic foods (not that everything labeled organic actually is organic) which means we’ll still eat a lot of the foods we ate before. This is a recipe for weight gain. When all-natural, organic, healthy, low-calorie foods are available, they’re usually more expensive and need to be cooked – no ready-made, microwaveable foods here. The best food choices are not the easiest choices, but they’re worth it.

So, while you’re spending more time shopping for better food choices and cooking healthy meals, let’s get exercising! The “hunger hormone” ghrelin may cause a problem here. Ghrelin is produced in the cells of the stomach lining to signal the brain that you are hungry. When you don’t eat, ghrelin will signal the body to slow your metabolism and store the fat you have. Now, you’re hungry at the supermarket, hungry when you cook, and because of a slowed metabolism, exercise will not burn calories as you would expect.

All around, the gastric balloon is a bad idea. There’s no “magic” to weight loss. We need to feed our bodies with high-quality foods in the least amount of calories – eaten in the proper ratio (40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 30% fat). It sounds much more difficult than it is. There are great recipes available on the internet, on our website and on this blog. You can investigate healthy meal replacement shakes and bars for fast meals that fit into your schedule. Exercises can be done in a short time with no gym membership, no special clothes, and from the comfort of your own home.

Balloons are a toy and should not be eaten!