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Weight loss medications are available for some people when diet and exercise strategies are not enough. Most of these medications work by reducing appetite. Here, we pick and review evidence-backed and vetted prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) options.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 1999–2000, the obesity rate was 30.5% in the United States. In 2017–2020, it increased to 41.9%.

While prescription and OTC medications are available, only one nonprescription medication has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Healthcare professionals may recommend specific diet and exercise programs alongside prescription weight loss medication.

This article discusses what weight loss medication is, how it works, and whether it is safe. It also lists the available medications, alternatives, and when to contact a doctor.

Weight loss medications typically suppress a person’s appetite.

GLP-1 medications are one type of weight loss medication. It is not completely clear how they work. However, studies have shown that these drugs help suppress hunger and manage appetite.

Research from 2021 states these types of medications can help with weight loss by decreasing energy intake and increasing energy expenditure.

Anorectics are another type of weight loss medication. Further 2021 research states that these suppress appetite, minimize fat absorption, and increase the feeling of fullness.

Some weight loss medications are available via prescription, while others are OTC options. Glucagon-like peptide agonists (GLP-1) and anorectics are two types of weight loss medications. Both work by helping suppress appetite.

Prescription weight loss medications are available as injections or capsules. GLP-1 medications are currently the most popular prescription weight loss medication.

It is not yet clear how these medications work, but studies have found that GLP-1 medications can help suppress appetite by slowing the time it takes to empty the stomach, leaving a person feeling full for longer.

Prescription medication for weight loss typically comes with lifestyle change support, either from the healthcare professional writing the prescription or from third-party referrals.

If a person uses an online service to buy weight loss medication, lifestyle support may be included in the cost of using that service.

A person may decide to try an OTC weight loss medication rather than a prescription option because of the cost.

It may also be quicker to buy medication OTC rather than wait to visit a doctor. A healthcare professional visit can involve having tests before receiving a prescription of medication for delivery or pickup from a pharmacy.

However, the FDA currently only approves one OTC weight loss medication, Alli (orlistat). All other OTC weight loss capsules do not have FDA approval. They may either not be effective or could be dangerous to consume.

People can get prescription weight loss drugs with an in-person visit to a healthcare professional or through telehealth services. Telehealth may appeal to people who are in more rural locations, do not have a primary care doctor, or find it difficult to make an appointment at a local clinic.

Alli is the only OTC weight loss medication with FDA approval for weight management.

The following comparison table features the prescription and OTC medications in this article.

All prescription medication prices come from Optum Perks, an online prescription search engine. Optum Perks provides coupons that may lower the cost of medication.

All prices are current as of March 2024. The price of each medication is for a 4-week supply of the lowest possible dose.

Prescription needed?PriceFrequency of dosageCovered by insurance?Our recommended retailer
Wegovyyes$1,300–$1,400once weekly injectionyesRo Body
Ozempicyes$3,400–$3,900once weekly injectionyesCalibrate
Saxendayes$7,700–$8,200once daily injectionyesK Health
Mounjaroyes$1,000–$1,100once weekly injectionnoPlushCare
Adipex-Pyes$4.49–$15.58one tablet dailynoAmazon Pharmacy
Contraveyes$612–$652two tablets dailyyesPlushCare
Orlistatyes$595–$673three capsules dailyyesPlushCare
no$47.88three capsules dailyyesWalmart

Medical News Today only chooses telehealth services and online pharmacies that pass our rigorous vetting process to make sure our readers have a safe healthcare experience. We consider:

  • Safety: We only include telehealth services that have a healthcare professional available to determine whether the medication is safe and appropriate for use. Online pharmacies must only dispense medication with a valid prescription.
  • Weight loss medication options: There are occasionally shortages of GLP-1 and other weight loss medications. We only include telehealth services that also offer alternative medication if necessary.
  • Membership options: Telehealth services often have membership options that can reduce the cost of care. While most memberships do not cover the cost of medication, they can make receiving care and lifestyle support significantly less expensive.
  • Insurance concierges: We include telehealth companies that offer insurance concierge services, removing some of the uncertainty and stress people may feel while waiting to know if insurance will cover the cost of medication.
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All prescription weight loss medication has approval from the FDA and is typically safe to take.

According to a 2018 study, there were no safety concerns for semaglutide prescription medication treatments for weight loss. Semaglutide medications include Wegovy and Ozempic.

Additionally, 2022 research found that tirzepatide medications, such as Mounjaro, were safe. However, this type of medication did cause side effects, including dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues.

Semaglutide and tirzepatide medications are both examples of GLP-1 medications.

Alli is the only OTC weight loss medication with FDA approval. If a person wants to try a different OTC option, they need to speak with a doctor beforehand.

If a person does not want to use prescription or nonprescription medication to help them lose weight, there are alternative remedies available.

However, dietary supplements do not have FDA approval. There is also far less evidence that these remedies can help people lose a significant amount of weight in a similar time frame.

People should always seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional before taking any alternative remedies for weight loss. Some remedies may interact with other medications or supplements, leading to unintentional and potentially harmful side effects.

Garcinia cambogia extract

Garcinia cambogia extract contains the peel of the fruit. The peel is high in hydroxycitric acid, which some research states can help reduce weight gain and fat accumulation.

This product is available as a capsule, tablet, liquid, or powder. Brands differ in dosage.

However, the safety of this supplement is unclear. A 2018 review states it may cause:

Caffeine

Some people use caffeine to try and support weight loss or avoid weight gain. A 2019 meta-analysis suggests that caffeine may support the reduction of bodyweight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat.

Caffeine may exert its effect on body weight through a process called thermogenesis, which means increasing the heat the body generates. It may also help with burning fat.

Weight loss products with the label “thermogenic” may contain caffeine and ephedra or ephedrine. Researchers do not yet know the long-term results of using caffeine for weight loss.

People with the following conditions should exercise caution when consuming caffeine:

  • severe anxiety
  • cardiovascular disease or symptomatic cardiac arrhythmias
  • peptic ulcer disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • liver or kidney impairment
  • seizures
  • pregnancy

Glucomannan

Glucomannan is a soluble fiber that has blood sugar- and blood lipid-lowering effects. It works as a type of nutritional therapy for type 2 diabetes.

This soluble dietary fiber becomes very sticky when it mixes with water in the gut. This means it helps slow the digestion and absorption of food, delaying the time it takes food to pass through the digestive system, and reducing blood glucose levels after a person eats.

People with diabetes should speak with a healthcare professional before trying glucomannan for weight loss. It may interfere with any medication they are taking.

In 2021, the FDA released an alert due to a potential choking hazard to young children and older adults eating jelly products containing glucomannan. This is because, unlike jello containing gelatine, the products with glucomannan do not melt in the mouth as a person might expect, but rather remain firm.

Pyruvate

The National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements lists pyruvate’s mechanisms of action as a weight loss aid. These include increasing the breakdown of fat and increasing energy expenditure. However, only a few weak clinical trials exist to back up this theory.

Aside from gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas and diarrhea, research shows pyruvate to be safe when a person takes up to 30 grams a day for 6 weeks. However, taking the supplement could also affect a person’s cholesterol ratios.

Green tea extract

Green tea has more robust scientific evidence of its weight loss benefits than many other alternative remedies.

Research shows it helps with weight loss by:

  • increasing the amount of energy the body uses
  • increasing fat burning
  • reducing the body’s production of fat cells
  • reducing fat absorption

Adverse effects people have reported after taking green tea extract include:

  • constipation
  • abdominal discomfort
  • nausea
  • increased blood pressure
  • liver damage

People with blood pressure or liver problems should exercise caution when considering green tea extract as a weight loss supplement.

Conjugated linoleic acid

People may also try taking conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) to help them lose weight. CLA is a type of fatty acid found mainly in dairy foods and beef.

The mechanisms behind CLA’s weight loss supporting effects include:

  • increasing fat breakdown
  • reducing production of fat cells
  • encouraging the death of fat cells in the body’s fat tissue

Aside from digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea, CLA may increase markers of oxidative stress. It may also reduce fat levels in breast milk, so people should exercise caution during breastfeeding.

Hydroxycut

Hydroxycut claims to help people lose weight fast. The main ingredient in Hydroxycut is Coffea canephora robusta, or coffee extract.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, coffee extract might have a modest effect on weight loss, but the scientific evidence is of poor quality. The mechanisms of action include inhibiting the buildup of fat and regulating glucose metabolism.

People susceptible to headaches and urinary tract infections (UTIs) should exercise caution with this product.

Additionally, people should be aware that coffee extract contains caffeine. At doses of 15 mg/kg of body weight, caffeine can cause:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fast heart rate
  • seizures
  • brain swelling

There are many ways a person can try to lose weight without the need for weight loss medication.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggests a person can try:

  • following a balanced eating plan and reducing calorie intake
  • getting regular physical activity
  • setting weight goals
  • asking for support from family, friends, and healthcare professionals
  • enrolling in a weight loss program

If a person wishes to lose a large amount of weight, they should consult a healthcare professional first.

Additionally, if someone has difficulty losing weight after trying nonmedical techniques, they should talk with a doctor who may prescribe weight loss medication.

Alternatively, a doctor may recommend bariatric surgery or weight loss devices. Examples of weight loss devices include:

  • electrical stimulation system
  • gastric balloon system
  • gastric emptying system

A person should contact a medical professional if they experience any side effects when taking weight loss medication.

Prescription medications with FDA approval are the safest options for weight loss. However, the most effective medication will differ between individuals. People should work with a qualified healthcare professional to determine the best weight loss plan for their goals and overall health.

A person can ask a doctor for weight loss medication. A doctor can prescribe them if the person has a BMI of 30 or over or a BMI of 27 or over and a weight-related health condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

If a person does not meet the criteria for a weight loss medication prescription, insurance may not cover the drugs, and a doctor can suggest alternative ways to lose weight.

A person should use weight loss medications alongside diet management and exercise. Working with a healthcare professional to help meet an individual’s weight loss goals is preferable.

According to the Obesity Medicine Association, phentermine is the most commonly used weight loss drug. Originally used as a short-term therapy to kick-start weight loss, it is the oldest weight loss medication.

GLP-1 medications have become more popular over the last couple of years. This has led to recurrent shortages of many GLP-1 drugs due to an increase in demand. A healthcare professional may prescribe a different medication if a GLP-1 drug is not available.

No researchers have directly compared Ozempic and Wegovy. However, a 2022 review of 23 studies suggests that Wegovy may result in greater weight loss than Ozempic.

It is worth noting that doctors usually prescribe a higher ongoing maintenance dose of Wegovy than Ozempic. This could explain the review’s findings.

Prescription weight loss medication is available for some people. Some medications suppress appetite, while others decrease fat absorption.

Some OTC medications are also available. However, only one nonprescription medication has approval from the FDA. A person should consult a healthcare professional before taking any weight loss medication.