Purpose of review: Overweight and obesity together with their comorbidities have become increasingly prevalent worldwide. The need for well tolerated, effective interventions has become increasingly urgent. Here we review the pharmacology, benefits, and risks of Western and Chinese medications used for weight loss.
Recent findings: Lifestyle interventions for weight loss are efficacious, but have had limited long-term durability. Bariatric surgery is very effective for weight loss and reversal of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), but it is invasive and not consistently durable in all patients. Recent studies show that newer Western pharmaceuticals and some traditional Chinese medications may be effective for appropriate patients in need of weight loss.
Summary: New Western medications, notably lorcaserin, phentermine/topiramate, naltrexone/bupropion, and liraglutide, are more effective and possibly safer than older medications but have important side-effects. Chinese herbal medicines may have efficacy similar to that of older Western medications and with few side-effects, but data are limited. We suggest that for appropriate patients, in particular those with or at high risk for T2DM, the judicious use of these medications with lifestyle modification is justified. This may be particularly true in Asia where T2DM develops at a low BMI, though more data are needed to support this concept.