Anti-addiction drugs could be used to treat obese patients after trials combining the medication with diet and exercise showed people lost up to 6% of their body weight.
The 56-week US trial used 1,742 patients aged 18 to 65, but found there was no significant reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol levels to match the weight loss.
Study authors said the “clinically meaningful” results could reduce the risk of death, despite only half the trial participants completing the programme.
Patients were randomly given either a combination of bupropion and naltrexone or placebo, and advised on lifestyle changes such as eating less to consume fewer calories and increasing the amount of exercise they did.
Bupropion is known commercially as anti-smoking drug Zyban, while naltrexone is used to treat alcoholics and heroin addicts.
All patients used in the trial were classified as clinically obese, as their collective body mass index (BMI) was 36. BMI is a measurement of weight relative to height, and is considered a stronger indicator of obesity than just measuring how heavy someone is.
However, the average weight of the trial participant before beginning the trial was 15.7 stone or 100kg.
Study authors published their findings in an online edition of The Lancet medical journal. They showed that treated participants lost between 5% and 6% of their bodyweight depending on which of two doses of naltrexone they were given. In comparison, patients in the placebo group lost 1.3%.
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