Weight-loss Drug Linked to Anxiety, Depression
> 11/16/2007 1:01:19 PM

With obesity a growing problem across the globe, the demand for medication to help individuals lose weight or maintain weight-loss has also grown. These medications do not come without health risks of their own, however, and two studies released this week demonstrate the potential dangers of weigh-loss drugs. Both studies provide evidence that patients taking rimonabant, which blocks hunger-causing receptors in the brain, are at risk for anxiety and depression.

In a meta-analysis, Arne Astrup, a professor from the University of Coppenhagen, and a group of doctors looked at 4 studies involving more than 4,000 people. Over the course of one year, participants received either 20 mg daily of rimonabant or a placebo. Those taking rimonabant lost an average of 10.3 pounds more than those taking the placebo, but they were also 40% more likely to experience adverse, and sometimes severe, psychiatric side effects. They were 2.5 times more likely to experience depression and 3 times more likely to experience anxiety. These results are especially significant as the researchers had excluded participants with a history of depression, which commonly occurs alongside obesity.

A second meta-analysis, published in the British Medical Journal, also found that those taking rimonabant have an increased risk for depression and anxiety. Additionally, the meta-analysis highlights some of the other dangers of rimonabant and other weight-loss drugs. After looking at 30 studies, the researchers concluded that rimonabant and two other weight-loss drugs, orlistat and sibutramine, had only minimal benefits over a long period of time. They explain that patients often stop taking weight-loss drugs, possibly due to the adverse side effects. The researchers suggest that future research address the incidence of disease and death associated with weight-loss drugs.

These studies add to an already-established case against rimonabant. Last June, the FDA did not approve the weight-loss drug for sale in the U.S. because of evidence that the drug can cause suicidal thoughts. The European Union, however, has approved rimonabant, or Acomplia, as a supplemental treatment for obese patients with type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular problems. The drug's label warns that patients with depression should not take it, and both studies include warnings. Both studies also emphasize that doctors should use extra caution when prescribing the drug and observe patients carefully, especially as obese patients already have a high risk for depression.

Further research may give us a better understanding of the risks of weight-loss drugs, as well as the extent of the benefits. While these drugs may be helpful as a supplemental treatment for some, most will probably find a healthy diet and plenty of exercise to be a safer method for fighting obesity.

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