The FDA has recently approved Qsymia, a promising new diet pill that produces dramatic results. In clinical trials following 3,700 people, most participants lost 6 to 9 percent of their body weight. While this isn’t the first diet pill to have been approved for the market, it is the most recent that has come under the misconception that it can be taken by itself, and miraculously burn fat for its users.
There is no substitution for good old fashioned diet and exercise, but in today’s culture people are always looking for the path of least resistance, especially when it comes to their weight. With fast food companies everywhere and unhealthy food options seemingly always on hand, miracle drugs look appealing, but typically end up being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
A brief history of diet pills in America
Dieters in the 50s used amphetamines to boost metabolism. Long-term amphetamine use causes heart problems, chest pains, palpitations and insomnia. Amphetamines are also highly addictive, prompting a ban on most medicines containing this drug. Fen-phen and Redux emerged in the 90s; the FDA pulled both drugs in 1997 because of side effects such as heart valve defects and pulmonary hypertension. Other diet pills that have come before the FDA include: Sibutramine (Meridia), Lorcaserin (Lorqess), Contrave and Orlistat (Alli, Xenical).
In 2010, the FDA rejected Vivus, Inc.'s request for approval for its new weight loss drug, Qnexa, citing concerns about the side effects associated with two of its components, phentermine and topiramate. Phentermine is associated with slowed heart rate. Topiramate increases the risk for oral clefts, a birth defect, by as much as five times. Vivus responded by suggesting that the Qnexa label should recommend use only for men and women who are not of childbearing age. The FDA was unmoved and urged Vivus to go back to the laboratory.
In 2011, Vivus again sought approval for their weight loss drug. After weighing the risks and benefits, the FDA approves the product in 2012 under a new name, Qsymia. Qsymia works by acting on the brain in two different ways: Phentermine reduces hunger signals while topiramate, an anti-seizure medication, depresses brain activities.
The importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise
Diet and exercise is the cornerstone of a slim waistline and a healthy life. There is a clear link between inactivity and disease. The medical journal, The Lancet, recently published a study that calls inactivity the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. The study suggests inactivity caused more than 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths worldwide in 2008. These deaths were the result of four major diseases: heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer. Even 15 minutes a day of moderate exercise reduces the risk for these diseases.
A sedentary lifestyle is as deadly as smoking and a poor diet has a similar effect. A study published in the British Medical Journal shows cardiovascular- and cancer-related deaths resulting from a poor diet accounted for 81 percent of the excess deaths in Wales and Northern Ireland. Nutrition-related death rates were much lower in England and Scotland. This study looked at what the people of these countries ate. Those in Northern Ireland ate 4 percent more saturated fat, 7 percent more sodium and 20 percent fewer fruits and vegetables than those in England. It's clear that a low-fat diet, packed with fruits and vegetables, reduces death rates.
Why not just eat better?
Affordable groceries are not available everywhere; many Americans live in food deserts, defined by the USDA as "a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store." These people have restricted access to affordable, healthy diet options and must rely on corner stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants for packaged and processed foods, typically higher in calories.
Even outside a food desert, unhealthy food is frequently cheaper than healthy, fresh food. Savvy shoppers gain valuable savings by looking for sales or using coupons. Internet coupon sites help even those living in food deserts to find local deals.
Qsymia, when used in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise, will undoubtedly help millions of Americans lose weight and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and more. However, it will never be a healthier substitute for appropriate diet and exercise. Complimenting an unhealthy lifestyle change to counteract another unhealthy lifestyle issue can only make things more complicated. In order to truly become healthy again, a dramatic shift in lifestyle choices are necessary.
Grady is an avid health blogger and enthusiast. The absolute best way to lose weight is through proper diet and exercise, which can be done cheaply through inexpensive food coupons, an active lifestyle and simply exercising outside.