Weight loss drug withdrawn

04/08/2010 - Articles

Weight loss drug withdrawn

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Sibutramine, the weight loss drug, has recently been withdrawn in Europe. This follows on the withdrawal of another weight loss drug, rimonabant, and leaves orlistat as the only pill available here for treating obesity. Sibutramine fell because it increases the risk of heart problems, which is a little ironic because weight loss itself supposedly improves heart health.

Professor Gareth Williams of the University of Bristol, UK, explains that the way sibutramine works is linked to possible heart problems. It reduces appetite, by raising levels of the brain chemicals noradrenaline and serotonin which, while it may make for an effective weight loss drug, also increases blood pressure and heart rate.

The withdrawal of sibutramine follows findings from the SCOUT (Sibutramine Cardiovascular Outcome Trial) where patients over 55 who were thought to be at risk of heart disease were given high doses of the weight loss drug or placebo. Over five years, 10% of the placebo participants had a fatal or non-fatal heart attack, or similar complication, compared to just 2% of the general population. Among the participants treated with sibutramine, the rate of heart attack was higher, at 11.4%. The US Food and Drug Administration is waiting to see further results on SCOUT before it makes a decision on whether or not the weight loss drug ought to be banned in the United States.

The problem, Williams says, is that the inherent cardiovascular side effects of sibutramine means it can’t really be used to test whether a weight loss drug reduces cardiovascular risk. What is more, other research has shown that weight loss, in itself, can actually increase the risk of heart disease – which flies against what is commonly believed. This question needs to be settled so that people know exactly what they stand to gain, health wise, by losing weight.

So those looking for a bit of pharmaceutical help for weight loss are left with orlistat, which reduces fat absorption from food. While sibutramine and rimonabant may be available on the internet, obtaining these weight loss drugs in this way cannot be recommended. The failure of sibutramine makes healthy eating and regular exercise more important than ever as the future of weight loss drugs really cannot be predicted with any confidence.



Williams G Withdrawal of sibutramine in Europe British Medical Journal 20th February 2010


Created on: 04/08/2010
Reviewed on: 04/08/2010

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