Latimer: New drug combo for weight loss

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new combination drug for weight loss but it's not yet approved in Canada.

North America’s fight against the obesity epidemic received some good news recently when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new combination drug for weight loss.

Contrave is a combination of two already approved drugs—naltrexone and bupropion—and has proven effective as a treatment option for weight loss in people with body mass index (BMI) of 27 or greater who are also adhering to a low calorie diet and exercise regimen and have a weight-related condition such as type II diabetes or hypertension.

Contrave’s effectiveness was studied in more than 4,500 obese and overweight people. In one study involving non-diabetic patients, 42 per cent of participants were able to lose at least five per cent of their body weight in a year compared to only 17 per cent of those who were not taking Contrave.

Another study of individuals with type II diabetes found those taking the drug were twice as likely as controls to lose five per cent of their body weight within a year.

It is not yet understood exactly why this combination of medications leads to weight loss; however, both naltrexone (an opioid antagonist) and bupropion (an antidepressant and smoking cessation drug) have proven effective for the treatment of addiction.

Recent evidence that foods (such as sugar) can be as addictive as other substances could provide some insight into why similar medications can help in both situations.

Many people with chronic obesity find it very difficult to lose weight and keep it off in spite of effort. Just as in other substance addictions, it seems nearly impossible for some food addicts to avoid relapsing without help.

Although it seems promising, Contrave is not without side effects and critics say its benefits do not outweigh the risk of elevated blood pressure the drug can bring. As of now, Contrave is not yet approved for use in Canada. More research will continue to judge its effectiveness and adverse events.

Given the negative physical and mental health outcomes of obesity, it is a very positive step to find a weight loss aid with the potential to greatly improve a person’s chances of success when combined with appropriate diet and exercise.

I am hopeful that with adequate management by a health care professional, Contrave could be a useful tool in the battle against obesity. I look forward to seeing what time and continued research will show about this promising medication.