Weight loss medications in Canada – a new frontier or a repeat of past mistakes?
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Current methods for the treatment of excess weight can involve healthy behavior changes, pharmacotherapy, and surgical interventions. Many individuals are able to lose some degree of weight through behavioral changes; however, they are often unable to maintain their weight loss long-term. This is in part due to physiological processes that cannot be addressed through behavioral changes alone. Bariatric surgery, which is the most successful treatment for excess weight to date, does result in physiological changes that can help with weight loss and weight maintenance. However, many patients either do not qualify or elect to not have this procedure. Fortunately, research has recently identified changes in neurochemicals (i.e., orexigens and anorexigens) that occur during weight loss and contribute to weight regain. The neurochemicals and hormones may be able to be targeted by medications to achieve greater and more sustained weight loss. Two medications are approved in adjunction to lifestyle management for weight loss in Canada: orlistat and liraglutide. Both medications are able to target physiological processes to help patients lose weight and maintain a greater amount of weight loss than with just behavioral modifications alone. Two other weight management medications, which also target specific physiological processes to aid in weight loss and its maintenance, a bupropion/naltrexone combination and lorcaserin, are currently pending approval in Canada. Nonetheless, there remain significant barriers for health care professionals to prescribe medications for weight loss, such as a lack of training and knowledge in the area of obesity. Until this has been addressed, and we begin treating obesity as we do other diseases, we are unlikely to combat the increasing trend of obesity in Canada and worldwide.
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