I recently heard about a new FDA-approved drug for weight loss. What is it, does it work, and does it have serious side effects?

It has been a relatively long time since a new weight-loss drug has been approved, but recently there have been two. The first one is Belviq — generic name lorcaserin — which stimulates serotonin 2C receptors in the hypothalamic area of the brain. Stimulation of those receptors has a modulating effect on appetite. The average amount of weight lost by patients in one study after one year was almost 13 pounds. In a study where treatment was continued for two years, this weight loss of about 13 pounds was sustained. The drug has some side effects, but in most patients they are minor and include headache, fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, and constipation. Patients with diabetes may experience low blood sugar. This drug is probably not a good choice if you are also taking some types of  antidepressants, because the likelihood of serious side effects is high. 

The second new drug is Qsymia, and it is a combination of two older drugs (phentermine and topiramate). Generally this drug has more side effects than Belviq, but at its highest dose resulted in greater weight loss. Patients in a couple of large studies lost an average of about 22 pounds when taking the higher dose. These new drugs, while not a panacea, offer two viable options that, if appropriate for you, can serve as an aid, along with dietary and exercise considerations, to assist in weight loss.

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