How to Cope When Medications Affect Your Weight

It seems ironic that the remedies for many chronic illnesses may actually cause you to gain weight. There’s no question that weight management is an essential component of overall health; however, you may feel trapped in a catch-22.

The most common culprits for weight gain are antidepressants. These include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Zoloft, Paxil and Lexapro, as well as tricyclics and MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors. Antipsychotics that treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, including Zyprexa, are also primary contributors to weight gain. Next in line are corticosteroids such as prednisone and antihistamines such as Allegra and Zyrtec, but only with daily use. And finally, some type 2 diabetes drugs, including Diabinese, Insulase, Actos and Prandin, have been known to increase appetite.

Dietary restrictions and fasting seem only to complicate matters. Warfarin, for instance, limits consumption of green, leafy vegetables — a key component of a healthy diet. Grapefruit and other citrus fruits, bananas, avocadoes, fava beans, garlic and ginger may also be on a restricted list, especially if you are taking an MAO inhibitor. Also, many drugs require taking on an empty stomach.

Managing your medications and your weight.

The patients who start out at a healthy weight are ahead of the game when it comes to managing weight gain on medications. The patients who suffer the most are those who start out with unhealthy lifestyles and a weight problem; in those cases, drugs will just make a current problem worse. That’s why the single, most important thing you can do is practice good nutrition and exercise to achieve your best weight possible, sooner rather than later.

If your medication does restrict certain foods, there are plenty of other nutritional foods to choose from. Incorporate simple exercises like walking or bicep curls daily. Most medications that require taking on an empty stomach allow you to eat 30 minutes later. In that case take your meds when you first wake up. Shower, check your email and then eat breakfast — the most important meal of the day.

If you are following a healthy diet and exercise program, weight gain should be minimal. In addition, your physician may be able to prescribe either a different dose or a different medication altogether. Keep in mind that your main concern should be to treat the illness; a moderate amount of weight gain should not pose a health risk.

The bottom line is that each situation, and each patient, is unique. No single drug interacts exactly the same way with every person. It’s essential that you maintain an open dialog with your physician (which includes reporting all over-the-counter drugs and vitamins, as they can interact as well). Your physician is your most crucial link in balancing the treatment of chronic illness with weight management.

Here are additional resources you may find helpful:

13 Drugs That Can Make You Gain Weight, from Health

Antidepressants and Weight Gain, from WebMD

Medications That May Contribute to Weight Gain, from Weight Watchers

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