Some dieting experts say they are seeing a disturbing new trend in the ongoing quest to find the perfect weight-loss formula.
They say that doctors are prescribing drugs for obese patients that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that there had been a big jump in the number of doctors who had prescribed drugs for obese patients that had not been approved by the FDA for weight loss.
Among the most popular drugs being used were designed to treat depression and hyperactivity, including Adderall, Ritalin and Wellbutrin.
This practice, referred to as going "off-label," has some professionals worried.
"There is no evidence of the safety or the efficacy of going off-label for weight loss," said Dr. George Blackburn, associate director of the Harvard Medical School's Division on Nutrition, to the Journal.
Pharmaceutical companies also warn against taking these drugs for weight loss.
Side effects can include abdominal pain and anxiety, they say.
The practice of "off-labeling" appears to be helping these companies' profits, however.
The Journal reported that sales of Adderall, approved for people with attention-deficit disorder, had jumped in recent years by 3,000 percent.
Wellbutrin's sales hit $1.4 billion last year, a 1,000 percent increase since the drug came out in 2003.
Benefits Outweighing the Risks and Side Effects?
Sally Krawczy, a 51-year-old teacher from Murrieta, Calif., said to The Wall Street Journal, that after years of diet frustration, she had lost 135 pounds taking a combination of anti-seizure and antidepressant drugs her doctor had prescribed.
"The medicine helps control my need to be constantly eating," she said.
Robert Skversky, a bariatric physician in California, defends the practice of going off-label.
"Obesity is a chronic disease. … Diet and weight loss are not enough," he said.
Skversky said he usually prescribed a cocktail of drugs, including phentermine, a weight-loss drug, along with antidepressants like Prozac.
"Chronic diseases need drugs to keep them under control," he told the Journal.
Skversky said he instructed most of his patients that they would be on these drugs for life.
The benefits, he believes, mostly far outweigh the side effects.
Not everyone feels that way.
Theresa Saleeby, 31, from South Orange, N.J., says her doctor prescribed Topamax, an anti-seizure drug, when she decided she wanted to lose 50 pounds.
After taking the drug for seven months, she told the Journal, she lost only 3 pounds.
Even worse, she says, she suffered memory loss, her legs fell asleep, and her hair fell out in baseball-size clumps.
"I'd rather be chubby than bald," she said.
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