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Weight Loss Medication: Are They Right for You?

Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-AdamReviewed on 30.10.2023 | 5 minutes read
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Losing weight can be extremely challenging for some people. Even with a change in diet and increased exercise, they may still struggle to lose it. In scenarios like this, weight loss medication could be the answer. Different prescription weight loss drugs are available, but you may be wondering how effective they actually are and which one is right for you.

In this guide, we explore your options with weight loss mediation.

What are weight loss medications?

There are different weight loss medications available and they all have the aim of helping people lose weight. If the calories you eat exceed the calories you burn off, this will result in gaining weight. People who regularly eat more calories than they burn will likely become overweight or even obese. Weight loss medication is usually prescribed by your doctor, but some can be purchased from your pharmacy.

How do weight loss medications work?

Weight loss medications work by doing one or more of the following:e

  • Reducing appetite: If you feel fuller you won't want to eat as many calories.

  • Reducing the rate of which nutrients such as fat are absorbed lowering your calorie intake.

  • Increasing fat burning so you don’t store as many calories in your body.

Combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise, this type of medication can help you lose weight.

How well does weight loss medication work?

Using weight loss drugs can be an effective way to lose weight that you’ve been unable to shift through diet and exercise. The NHS is cutting their waiting lists, following the announcement of a £40 million two-year drugs pilot to make weight loss medication more accessible to patients living with obesity outside of hospitals. The UK government is focussed on tackling obesity with around two-thirds of adults in UK being classed as overweight having a BMI 25 or higher.


Combining weight loss medication with positive lifestyle changes can lead to good results and can help you lose between 5% to 15% of your total body weight, which can have significant health benefits. Lowering blood pressure, blood sugar levels and reducing the amount of fat can considerably improve your overall health. A  study found that those taking 2.4 mg of semaglutide once a week, alongside healthy lifestyle choices, were able to lose an average of 14.9% body fat.

Prescription weight loss drugs

Prescription weight loss medication can be prescribed by your doctor if they feel you will be unable to lose this excess weight through diet and exercise alone. Some prescription weight loss medication can be used for more than 12 weeks making it a long-term treatment option.

What can a GP prescribe for weight loss?

Currently only the only approved and licensed weight loss medication available in the UK are:

  • Orlistat: Can be bought under brand names Orlos, Alli or Xenical. Suitable for adults with a BMI over 28 kg/m2. Can also be bought as a lower dose from a pharmacy. Alli is a reduced-strength form that doesn’t require a prescription.

  • Saxenda: Brand name for liraglutide, a type of GLP-1 analogue injected daily. It’s suitable for adults with a BMI over 27 kg/m2 who also have a weight related issue or those with a BMI over 30 kg/m2 classed as obese. Children between 12-17 years with a body weight over 60 kgs and classed as obese may be prescribed it to lose weight.

  • Wegovy: Wegovy is a brand name for semaglutide, a GLP-1 analogue. Prescribed to people who usually have a BMI over 30 kg/m2 and at least one weight-related health condition like type 2 diabetes. Those classes as having prediabetes can also be eligible.

  • Mounjaro: Brand name for a new class of drug called a GIP (glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide) and GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) receptor agonists. It aims to reduce blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes but may cause weight loss too. It’s not approved as a weight loss drug however doctors may prescribe it off label.

Through the NHS, Wegovy and Saxenda can only be prescribed by a specialist weight management service. Wegovy was recently released in the UK and will be made available to those living with type 2 diabetes or at high risk of it.

Pharmacist recommended products

Should anyone avoid taking it?

Weight loss medication should be avoided by people in certain cases.

It’s not suitable if you:

  • Are breast feeding.

  • Are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

  • Have problems absorbing food.

  • Have the medical condition cholestasis.

  • Take ciclosporin.

  • Take warfarin or other types of blood-thinning medication. 

Are there any side effects with weight-loss medication?

Like with any medication, there is the possibility that some people may experience side effects. With weight loss medication common side effects include:

  • Flatulence.

  • Fatty or oily stools.

  • Oily spotting on your underwear.

  • Sudden bowel motions.

  • Stomach pain.

Eating foods that are lower in fat can help to reduce the chance of these side effects. You should speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you are worried about any side effects.

How long does weight loss medication take to work

The speed of which it takes weight loss medication to work depends on different factors. For starters, the specific weight loss drug you are using will work differently and this will affect how quickly it works.

With Saxenda, some people may see a slight weight loss within the first two weeks of treatment. Results are not immediate and will take several weeks with Saxenda.

Weight loss with Orlistat typically happens in the first few months of use. If you’ve regularly exercised and stuck to a set diet and have not lost 5% of your initial body weight, continued use may not be worthwhile.

How long you should take a weight loss drug depends on what your doctor recommends and how quickly it’s working. If you’ve lost weight and it’s improved your health without any notable side effects, they may suggest you use it as a long term solution to manage weight.

Conclusion

Using weight loss medication can be a viable way to lose weight if you’ve been unable to lower it through conventional methods like changing to a healthy low calorie diet and regularly exercising.

You should only take weight loss drugs that have been prescribed by your doctor or recommended by a healthcare professional. You should carefully follow instructions and only take the advised doses. There may be side effects to consider as well so you should ask your doctor or GP if you have any concerns about this.

Contact our friendly team today if you have any questions about weight loss medication.

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Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed on 30.10.2023
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