Prime among health concerns for the 21st century is obesity. With 35.7 percent of adults in the United States ranking as obese and another two-thirds considered overweight, the health and indeed financial cost of excess weight is incalculable.
On the case are doctors, scientists, and healthcare professionals from around the world.
“Losing weight is hard, and we need more tools in our toolbox to help patients,” Donna Ryan, associate executive director for clinical research at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, told USA Today.
But the truth is that finding an effective prescription diet pill is easier said than done. And while people are looking to the established presence of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for direction, they’re often left bereft.
It just takes looking at the thousands of years of history behind weight loss to see that there is no easy solution. From ancient Greece to modern day America, finding an effective weight loss drug has never been simple.
Soranus of Ephesus: 2nd Century A.D.
The Greek physician Soranus of Ephesus holds the distinction of being the first person whose attempts at producing weight loss were recorded. Operating in the second century, Soranus prescribed laxatives and other purgatives to reduce weight, alongside heat, massage and exercise.
Soranus’ recommendations became the golden standard for treating weight loss for more than a thousand years.
Weight loss remedies resurfaced in the 1930s, when doctors began seeking an alternate approach to helping people lose excess pounds. They identified the importance of accelerating metabolism, and eventually started to prescribe the industrial chemical dinitrophenol.
While dinitrophenol was successful in speeding up patients’ metabolism, it also carried the risk of fever, swelling, and dangerous toxicity levels. Twelve women in San Francisco were even reported by the New York Times to have gone blind after taking the drug.
In fact, the dangers of dinitrophenol were Biotox part of the spur to establish the FDA in 1938.
Amphetamines: 1950s and 1960s
Twenty years later, the drug industry tried again with amphetamines. These highly active substances proved useful in both boosting metabolism and suppressing appetite, but were also discovered to increase blood pressure and heart rate.
While some amphetamines-like phentermine-are still marketed in the U.S., they are usually not recommended for use beyond twelve weeks. In terms of the drug industry, amphetamines are rarely included.
Perhaps the drug that most rocked the prescription weight loss boat was Fen-phen. Fen-phen was born in 1992 when one weight loss researcher discovered that the combination of two existing drugs-the previously mentioned phentermine, and fenfluramine-produced a 10 percent weight loss that was maintained for more than two years.