How Safe Are Blockbuster Weight Loss Drugs?

How Safe Are Blockbuster Weight Loss Drugs?

Weight loss drugs are nothing new. Some of the first diet pills date back to the 1800s, but they didn’t reach peak popularity until 1985, when the National Institutes of Health officially declared obesity a chronic disease and fen-phen hit the market. Although this particular weight loss drug helped people lose a lot of weight, it also caused heart valve abnormalities when taken for more than 12 weeks. It was removed from the market, but several new weight loss drugs have been introduced since then, proving their popularity hasn’t faded.

Adults with weight-related health problems or who can’t seem to lose weight even with regular dieting and exercising may believe these drugs are their only solution. However, it’s important to understand risk factors and potential side effects before making any decisions.

Health Risks of Weight Loss Drugs

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 15% of U.S. adults have tried a weight loss dietary supplement at some point in their lives. Nutritional supplements come in various forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, liquids and bars. They commonly contain botanical ingredients, such as minerals, dietary fiber and caffeine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all dietary supplements.

Health care providers typically prescribe weight loss drugs for people struggling to lose weight through diet and exercise. Individuals must have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 or greater than 27 with a severe medical condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. These drugs are marketed as being able to reduce appetite, body fat and weight while increasing metabolism. Although they may sound relatively harmless, they do carry some health risks.

Many drugs promising a quick and easy fix to weight loss may not work quite that well. For example, human chorionic gonadotropin or HCG, mainly used to treat fertility issues, started being used for weight loss because of its severe dietary restrictions of 500 to 800 calories daily. However, it hasn’t proven effective and may cause more harm than good.

Drugs that suppress appetite can lead to health complications, such as fast heart rate, high blood pressure and lung or heart problems. It should also be noted that while appetite suppressors can help you lose weight, that weight may be gained back quickly once normal eating is resumed. This can cause individuals to continuously get off and on the drug and obsess over their weight or body. Some diet drugs also contain stimulants, which can result in addiction with extensive use.

Types of New Weight Loss Drugs

Despite known health risks, these drugs have continued to be popular for reducing weight. In fact, new weight loss drugs were recently approved by the FDA for the first time since 2014. Let’s look at the latest weight loss drug in 2022 and other popular medications currently in circulation.


Ozempic contains semaglutide, which is used to control blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes. It’s also used to prevent several conditions, including kidney disease, blindness and nerve problems. Semaglutide is similar to incretin, a natural hormone produced by the body, and works by releasing insulin to lower blood sugar levels. It helps with weight loss by telling the body you feel full, prompting the stomach to empty more slowly. Ozempic is designed to be injected in the stomach, arm or thigh once a week.

So far, research has shown taking 2.4 milligrams of semaglutide is effective at gradually reducing weight. Respondents have reported losing 15% of their body weight in 68 weeks. However, some people have reported experiencing nausea and dehydration from the drug. Ozempic has also been cited as causing bowel movement changes, with some people experiencing diarrhea and others severe constipation.


Wegovy is another drug containing semaglutide and is similar to Ozempic. The FDA approved a weekly injection of 2.4 milligrams to help with chronic weight management in adults. It works by mimicking the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) to target brain regions responsible for regulating appetite and food intake. Since Wegovy can also cause gastrointestinal effects, it’s recommended to gradually increase the dose to 2.4 milligrams over time.

Wegovy has a few restrictions and shouldn’t be taken if you have a family history of severe allergic reactions to semaglutide. The drug also poses a potential risk of causing thyroid C-cell tumors and shouldn’t be taken if you have a medical history of medullary thyroid carcinoma.


Tirzepatide weight loss injections were approved by the FDA in 2022 to treat various conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart failure. Like other weight loss drugs, it’s meant to be injected once weekly. How does tirzepatide work? The drug helps you feel full on less food and slows its passage through the digestive tract. Since tirzepatide also mimics hormones produced in the gastrointestinal system, it can cause nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea.

Drug Side Effects

Side effects will vary, depending on the drug, and some people may be prone to certain symptoms more than others. However, most weight loss drugs carry similar short-term side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Belching or gas
  • Headache

Although most side effects are temporary and should fade as your body adjusts to the drug, some medications have revealed long-term complications. For example, semaglutide has been linked to kidney issues, blurred vision and pancreatitis. Medical attention should be sought immediately if you experience severe stomach pain or persistent nausea and vomiting.

Talk to a Doctor Before Trying a New Drug

Since these medications can cause serious health complications, it’s important to consult a doctor before trying any new weight loss drugs. Understanding potential risks and side effects can help you decide whether it’s the best move for your body. It’s also crucial to know what ingredients are used in the drug in case it has addictive qualities.

If you or someone you know has been struggling with body issues, seeking mental health treatment may help. Restore Mental Health offers several services that can help you process your emotions or overcome a substance use issue with weight loss drugs. Contact us today to speak with an admissions counselor and learn how to build a healthier lifestyle.