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Weight-loss drug Meridia increases heart attack and stroke risk

Posted Sep 10 2010 8:51am

Meridia (Sibutramine) is an appetite suppressant, and is prescribed by physicians to help obese individuals lose weight. Meridia works by blocking the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters in the brain related to appetite. Meridia was shown to reduce food intake and body weight compared to placebo in several trials[1]. However there is no such thing as a drug without side effects.

Obese couple

Concerns regarding adverse cardiovascular events led to a large clinical trial in order to assess Meridia’s safety. On September 15, an FDA advisory committee is scheduled to decide whether to keep Meridia on the market, based on the final results from the trial, which were published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. In 2009, preliminary results from the trial prompted European health officials to withdraw the drug from the market. Meridia may soon be withdrawn in the U.S. as well [2].

The trial evaluated cardiovascular events in subjects assigned to either Meridia or placebo over approximately three years. The trial’s 10,000 participants were overweight or obese individuals over age 55 with either cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, or both. The average weight loss on Meridia was 9.5 lbs. Although the researchers found no increase in death rates among Meridia users, they did find a 28% increase in risk of heart attack, and a 36% increase in risk of stroke. [3]

Weight loss is beneficial for overall health, in part because it helps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. So essentially, this drug is having the exact opposite of its intended effect. Plus the weight loss in this trial was miniscule – 9.5 lbs. is inconsequential for someone who is obese. Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian diet-style has been shown to result in an average weight loss of 53 lbs. after two years[4], and healthy eating does not carry an increased risk of cardiovascular events – it only reduces risk.

The bottom line: there are no shortcuts to weight loss or to good health.



1. Tziomalos, K., G.E. Krassas, and T. Tzotzas, The use of sibutramine in the management of obesity and related disorders: an update. Vasc Health Risk Manag, 2009. 5(1): p. 441-52.
2. Heavey, S. Diet drug Meridia study renews calls for U.S. ban. 9/1/2010 9/9/2010]; Available from:
3. James, W.P., et al., Effect of sibutramine on cardiovascular outcomes in overweight and obese subjects. N Engl J Med, 2010. 363(10): p. 905-17.
4. Sarter, B., T.C. Campbell, and J. Fuhrman, Effect of a high nutrient density diet on long-term weight loss: a retrospective chart review. Altern Ther Health Med, 2008. 14(3): p. 48-53.


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