The weight loss medication Belviq has been sold in the United States since 2013 and is one of many new medications approved by the FDA to treat obesity. It’s an appetite suppressant and costs between $220 and $290 a month in the U.S. Many weight loss medications also increase the risk of developing heart problems, but Belviq is the first drug to succeed in a long-term study designed to assess the risks of developing heart issues.
Researchers tested a group of 12,000 individuals who were either obese or overweight and also had heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. They were given either Belviq or placebos twice a day along with lifestyle and nutrition advice. After one year, 39 percent on Belviq and 17 percent who had been taking placebos had lost 5 percent of their weight. After three years, only 6 percent of each group had experienced a heart-related health problem.
The results of the study were discussed at a European Society of Cardiology meeting and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. The maker of Belviq, Eisai Inc., sponsored the study.
Although Belviq didn’t cause heart problems, it didn’t lower the risk for them either. And the weight loss it caused was modest. According to the Boston Globe, individuals taking Belviq lost about 9 pounds after 40 months, but that was twice as much as those who were only given placebos.
Doctors say it’s possible that weight loss alone might not be enough to lower your risk for heart problems or that more weight loss might need to occur.
Many popular weight loss drugs have been taken off the market after they were discovered to raise the risk for several health problems, including suicidal thoughts and heart valve damage.
According to the BBC, the drug does not yet have a European license. In the UK, it would need to be approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence before it could be prescribed by physicians. But for overweight people around the world, it could provide an alternative solution to invasive weight-loss treatments such as gastric band surgery.
Around the world, 13 percent of adults are obese and 39 percent are overweight. According to doctors, excess weight increases the risk of diabetes, certain types of cancer, and heart disease. Interventions in diet and exercise are the first steps doctors recommend, but medications are often recommended for individuals with very high weight.