Overweight patients who took a promising new diet pill called Acomplia lost an average of 19 pounds and saw their waistlines shrink more than three inches.
A new study also found that risk factors for heart disease and diabetes improved, and Acomplia had fewer serious side effects than existing diet pills Meridia and Xenical.
The experimental drug likely will be approved next year. But while Acomplia has been hailed as the best diet pill yet, researchers caution that it still falls far short of being a painless magic bullet for losing weight.
Acomplia might improve a user’s health, but it is “not a drug to take to look good in a swimming suit,” said Jean-Pierre Depres of the Quebec Heart Institute, lead author of the study published the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study, one of four clinical trials involving more than 6,600 patients, first was reported at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in 2004, with high-dose patients lost 19 pounds
Researchers randomly assigned 1,036 obese patients to take either an inactive placebo pill or Acomplia in a high or low dose. After 12 months, the placebo group lost an average of 5 pounds, while those who took the higher dose of Acomplia lost 19 pounds. Weight loss occurred during the first nine months, then stabilized.
The Acomplia group also experienced improvements in cholesterol levels, glucose tolerance, blood pressure and other risk factors.
However, the study did not examine whether taking Acomplia actually reduces the incidence of heart disease or diabetes, noted pharmacist Larry Sasich, a consultant to Public Citizen Health Research Group.
“There’s a modest effect on weight loss and no proven health benefit,” Sasich said.
Acomplia works on the same appetite pathway in the brain as marijuana does, but instead of giving the user the munchies, it depresses appetite.
Nearly two-thirds of American adults are overweight, with a body mass index greater than 25. You are overweight, for example, if you are 5 feet 4 inches and weigh more than 145 pounds or if you are 5-foot-10 and weigh more than 174 pounds.
By themselves, diet pills don’t work all that well. Another study in today’s New England Journal, for instance, found that people who took Meridia and participated in a diet and exercise programme lost an average of 27 pounds, while those who only took the pill lost just 11 pounds.
Unfortunately, many doctors “prescribe medications without providing much support for diet and exercise,” said lead researcher Thomas Wadden of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.
Acomplia and other diet pills generally help people lose 5 percent to 10 percent of their body weight. But most dieters hope to lose 15 percent to 25 percent, Wadden said.
Many people who take weight loss pills quit in frustration.

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