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28 Jun
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Belviq – Another Dodgy Weight Loss Fix, or the Miracle the US Has Been Waiting For?

Yesterday the Japanese drugmaker Eisai Co. had its shares jump 4% after the FDA announced approval for a new weight loss drug, Belviq. The drug is manufactured by its San Diego-based partner Arena Pharmaceuticals. There is no question that there is big money to be made with an effective obesity medication. Arena’s stock went up 29% yesterday. Unfortunately since the pharmaceutical industry has a greater investment in profit than it does in relieving human suffering (and there’s nothing wrong with making a profit – as long as no one is harmed in the process), I thought I’d have a look and see what the fuss is all about.

However, I have to make my position clear. Medication is for emergencies, and as a last resort. When nothing else works then fair enough give it a go, but I have had so many patients come to me for help when they’ve lost faith in their prescribed medication after realising that it just doesn’t work.

“There are two kinds of medications: cosmetic drugs and curative drugs. If you take an antibiotic long enough, it cures by killing the bacterial invaders. When you’re done taking it the disease will not recur because the pathogens are dead. Antibiotics are curative drugs.”

Martin Seligman PhD author of Flourish

Cosmetic drugs alleviate symptoms but they don’t fix the problem.

Weight loss medication falls into the cosmetic drug category.

Let’s look at the real problem. 2 out of 3 Americans fall into the categories of either overweight or obese – that is, they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 25. Excess weight causes serious health problems. It is connected with the onset of type II diabetes and cardio-vascular problems. As weight increases, exercise becomes more difficult because of the body mass that has to be moved around. You end up with a Catch 22 situation where the weight itself prevents you from doing things that might lift your mood and burn some calories. So you eat because there’s nothing else to do that feels good.

We live in the Time of the Quick Fix. The Time of Instant Gratification where Instant is generally not soon enough.

When you are hungry, or even when you are just bored, there are places, for many people, within a few minutes drive (God forbid you should walk there) where you can enjoy coffee and cake, fries, burgers dripping with melted fat (sorry, I mean cheese), sugar loaded shakes, and all sorts of stuff that just ain’t good for you. Waiting while something cooks, never mind shopping for ingredients is just too much trouble.

Yes I know I’m being unfair. I know many people who struggle with their weight, and they exercise, and they shop for healthy home-cooked meals. But just have a look at your life and see how much instantness you choose in your day. Instant entertainment at the flick of a switch; instant contact with your friends via facebook or text; instant demand for medical fixes rather than waiting to see if the body can heal itself of a cold, or virus, without the need for a visit to the doctor; have it now with a credit card, rather than save up and buy it when the money is available. It’s all around. There’s so much of it, it seems normal, and so we expect everything we want to be provided instantly.

So when we’ve been struggling with a diet for a  week and the weight that’s accumulated over the last 12 or 24 months, or maybe the last 5 or 10 years, isn’t gone – we give up and start looking round for a faster solution. All we want is for someone to invent a pill that means we can carry on with our unhealthy, instant, lifestyle and have a body to die for rather than a body that’s killing us.

That desire is what the manufacturers of ‘designer’ weight loss drugs are preying upon.

They know weight is an emotive subject.

They know that losing weight in a healthy, sensible way is such a long-term project that most people give up in despair long before they come even close to success. They know that looking at an overweight body in a mirror, in the privacy of your own home, can reduce you to tears no matter what kind of a public face you wear. They know they can appeal to your emotions and your desire for instant gratification by suggesting that what they hold in their pill factories is the answer to your heart’s desire. They hint that they have the magic wand that will, Cinderella-like, allow you to go to the ball, and be the star.

You may have seen my article on another weight loss pill Qnexa. One of the drugs, phentermine, in Qnexa was formerly part of Fen-Phen a weight loss drug withdrawn due to problems it was causing with heart-valve function. Belviq is making use of the other drug, fenfluramine, that was part of Fen-Phen. I mean why let something go to waste just ‘cos it’s killing people?

Just as with Qnexa, the FDA is requiring long-term trials to establish cardio-vascular safety after the drug goes on the market!!!!

Belviq, just like Qnexa, has some side-effects – different side-effects. The FDA doesn’t want pregnant women using it. It can produce a fatal increase in the production of the neuro-transmitter serotonin. All this will do is to cause muscle rigidity, fever and maybe seizures. It may also adversely affect memory, and maybe cause a loss of concentration. Just what you signed up for when all you really wanted was to lose a few pounds.

This drug, under a different name from the same manufacturer, was rejected by the FDA in 2010 because of concerns about cancer. These risks haven’t changed, it’s just that the FDA has been persuaded that the drug’s benefits outweigh the risks. I’m guessing that means the benefits to Arena’s bank account outweigh the risks to any one individual. I rather suspect that anyone who contracts cancer as a result of taking this prescribed medication may well have a different take on this. Even then the onus will be on the cancer sufferer to prove it was the drug, and for that you need a lot of drug sales and a lot of people taking the drug to contract the disease. It’s a high price.

I found that the most interesting thing is that, in clinical trials, Belviq only produced a 3% weight loss compared to a placebo group. Anyone with very little effort can lose more than that just by following the weight loss guidelines in my book, and my book has no adverse side-effects.

But the real problem here is treating being overweight or obese as a medical problem. It isn’t. Being overweight or obese, is unhealthy, it does cause some quite serious medical problems, but of itself it is not a medical issue. It’s an issue of putting too much food in our mouths and not burning it off with activity. That’s a personal problem. It can’t be cured because it isn’t a disease. It can be helped, but it needs education in eating, in caring for the self, in recognising that our bodies actually do need looking after and caring for.

Even if weight loss seems impossibly difficult for you, as long as you are prepared to make some small changes, you can lose weight without needing to ‘take’ anything.

But what you really need to do, is to stop thinking that your excess weight is someone else’s problem and that they will fix it for you. They won’t because they can’t.

The minute we take personal responsibility; the minute we decide that we will look after ourselves and ensure our own health and well-being, that’s when things will start to change – for the better.



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