Weight Loss with HEALTHeME

Weight loss and good health made simple

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Are your meds making you fat?

Pills that can cause weight gain.
Weight loss can be frustrating; especially if you feel like you’re doing everything right but still find yourself watching the scale tip in the wrong direction. Here’s a fact that adds fuel to the frustration fire: weight gain is a common, albeit undesirable, side effect of many medications. And, your prescription drugs may be one culprit behind your weight loss woes.

Now, let me be crystal clear about something: it is imperative that you take your medications as directed, even if they’re contributing to your weight loss frustration. Medication compliance is a huge issue for patients (and their drug prescribing docs) because if you aren’t taking your meds as scheduled, it’s really tough to manage your illness. Shockingly, one report estimates that 342 people die every day as a result of not taking their medications as prescribed and nearly 40% of patients don’t take their medications as directed. Many people cite weight gain as a reason they don’t take their medications. So, I’m going to discuss 4 common drugs that may be contributing to your weight and give you a strategy to help you manage these side effects – while still complying with your medication schedule.
  1. Antidepressants: Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S., with some reports estimating as many as one in 10 Americans are taking an antidepressant. And, about a quarter of the people taking common antidepressants gain weight, with many gaining 10 or more pounds. This is especially true of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.
  2. Blood Pressure: Medications that are used to help manage blood pressure, especially calcium channel blockers and beta blockers, can be linked to weight gain. When it comes to calcium channel blockers (e.g. amlodipine, verapamil, and diltiazam), the problem is that they often lead to water retention, which can tip the scales in an undesirable direction. Many people who take a beta blocker (e.g. metoprolol, atenolol, propranolol) experience a small weight gain. Plus, a common side effect of beta blockers is fatigue, which can make exercise a little more challenging.
  3. Migraine treatments: The World Health Organization reports that one adult in 20 experiences a daily headache, and many experience regular migraines. Migraines cause pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances. Migraines are also a major cause of disability. So, it’s no wonder that many people receive treatment for this condition. However, several medications, like amitriptyline and Depakote, which are commonly used to treat or prevent migraines, are also associated with weight gain.
  4. Steroids: With Spring just about in full bloom, many asthma and allergy sufferers are finding their use of steroids in full swing as well. Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs and treat a variety of medical conditions, including arthritis, asthma, severe allergies, and other inflammatory conditions. Although steroids often provide much-needed relief, they also provide some excess fat deposits, especially in the abdomen and face. Steroids may also increase your appetite and decrease your body’s ability to absorb glucose, both of which can wreak havoc on your waistline.

Now, for the good news: if you’re on these medications and want to gain some control over your, well, gain, it seems that exercise is an antidote of sorts. Of course, it goes without saying that following a healthy diet will help you shed unwanted pounds. However, exercise is so important because it can also help you manage many of the ailments that these drugs treat, minus the unwanted side effects. But, don’t take my word for it; here is some research to back me up:
  • Exercise can help prevent migraines. According to a 2011 study, participants who exercised 40 minutes three times per week experienced the same reduction in migraines as those who took a commonly prescribed medication.
  • One report cites exercise as an important adjunct to treating anxiety and depression. And, according to the data from several studies, the boost you get from exercise is similar to that provided by medication and therapy. The article also points out that several experts are trying to encourage primary care and mental health providers to write a prescription for exercise to aid in the treatment of depression.
  • It’s commonly accepted that many who suffer from asthma can benefit from some forms of exercise. But, it may be less well accepted that the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis might be lessened with exercise. Researchers with a Duke University study found that exercise, even without weight loss, reduced the markers of inflammation that are commonly associated with arthritis. So, exercise benefits the joints even when it doesn’t result big-time changes on the scale.
  • According to one report, just 15 minutes of exercise per day can reduce your blood pressure. In the study, participants who accumulated 90 minutes of brisk walking exercise each week saw a reduction in blood pressure.

If you have a medical condition that warrants medication, your best bet is to take the drugs as directed and share your concerns about weight gain with your doctor. But, know that you can counter some of the less-than-desirable side effects with a dose of exercise. Who knows, a healthy balance of diet and exercise might just help you gain control over your medical condition, and, while working with your doctor, you may see a day when you don’t have to take as many medications.