Are Your Prescription Pills Making You Gain Weight?

These days, it seems almost any problem can be solved with a pill. High blood pressure? Take beta blockers. Asthma? Try steroids. Feeling sick? Start a round of antibiotics. But some doctors argue that all these pills could be actually be working against you—and may be leading you to gain weight.

Known as iatrogenic—or drug-induced—obesity, it’s a condition that many Americans suffer from and may not even know it.

Various prescriptions can lead to weight gain through a number of different mechanisms. Here are some of the classes of medications that could be causing you to pile on the pounds:

  1. Steroid medications: Steroids, which are used to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus or asthma, can slow down metabolism and lead to extra deposits of fat on the body—especially around the abdomen. It’s pretty common on average to see anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds of weight gain.
  2. Antidepressants: Antidepressants can lead to weight gain by affecting your appetite. Emotion and mood are closely linked to weight and appetite—they’re very closely intertwined. It stands to reason that if you try to adjust one, the other might be affected. Antihistamines for allergies, may also have a similar effect on appetite.
  3. Insulin: While life-saving in many cases, insulin can increase hunger and weight gain in diabetics—which could in turn increase the need for more insulin. It’s a vicious cycle.
  4. Beta blockers and statins: Used to treat high blood pressure, glaucoma and migraines, beta blockers can work against you by bringing down your energy level and making it harder to work out. Similarly, statins (for cholesterol) can lead to muscle cramps and limit exercise.
  5. Antibiotics: In the farming industry, they give antibiotics to animals to help them gain weight. The theory is, these medications disturb the gut bacteria. The antibiotic effect is likely a cumulative one.

While most of these medications are associated with modest amounts of weight gain—five to 20 pounds, depending on the type of medicine—taking multiple prescriptions at once could compound the problem.

People in their 40s transitioning to middle-age are also at high risk for weight gain from prescription drugs, because of their slowing metabolisms.

Most of the time, instead of turning to a pill right away, physicians should make more of an effort to coach their patients on lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. For a lot of these patients, just by losing five to 10% of their body weight, they may not even need medications. Doctors need to start looking at the issue of weight gain with prescription medication, and monitor their patients’ weights if they are put on a new medication.

As for patients, the first step is awareness. If you’re being put on a medicine for the first time, ask if it can lead to weight gain. Also, ask how long you’re going to be on the medication or if there are any alternatives. A lot of time patients are put on medications and just stay on them.  There’s no end date or shelf-life.


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