Anyone who has struggled with either depression or weight gain knows that the two are often linked. Weight gain can be a trigger for depression just as depression can lead to behaviors that cause weight gain. Indeed, even many antidepressants include weight gain as a known side effect. In a somewhat surprising development, however, recent research has shown that one particular antidepressant, Wellbutrin, may actually have the opposite effect.
Wellbutrin (additionally Aplenzin) is the brand name for a drug called bupropion, and it is considered an atypical antidepressant; this means that it functions differently than the main classes of antidepressant medication that are typically used to treat depression. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and they work by balancing the brain’s level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, cognition, memory, and a number of other physiological processes.
Bupropion, by contrast, is a norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), and it works by boosting dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine and norepinephrine are also neurotransmitters, but they are associated with the regulation of energy level, sleep, and alertness. Bupropion was originally developed as an antidepressant, but it later gained FDA approval for the treatment of smoking cessation as well (under the brand name Zyban). Doctors are now prescribing Wellbutrin SR (or bupropion SR) as a twice-a-day option or Wellbutrin XL as a once-a-day option.
Like other antidepressants, bupropion is only available by prescription. Though it can be a first option for any patient, it is typically prescribed only after other antidepressants have proven ineffective. Also like other antidepressants, bupropion has specific dosage instructions that must be followed. Starting and stopping the drug should only be done with medical advice from a physician, because withdrawal symptoms are possible if stopped abruptly.
Patients on SSRIs are susceptible to a wide variety of common side effects, including sexual dysfunction and weight gain. One of the reasons Wellbutrin is sometimes preferable to patients, however, is that it specifically does not have those two side effects. But even though it is comparatively easier to take, there are some concerns for interested patients:
Most of these symptoms will typically go away after the first couple weeks of taking the medication. In less than 10% of cases, patients experience skin rash, shakiness, anxiety, stomach pain, or sweating. There is also a small risk of seizures if the recommended dosage is exceeded.
Though weight loss as a side effect was observed earlier, a 2012 study of obese adults on a recommended diet showed that the bupropion patients were able to lose almost double the weight of the placebo group after 48 weeks. Another study in 2016 also found compelling evidence that bupropion promotes weight loss, and a study in 2019 showed bupropion patients simply had no weight change compared to patients on other antidepressants.
Bupropion (either as Wellbutrin or Zyban) on its own is not typically prescribed for weight loss, but in 2014 the FDA approved a combination of bupropion and naltrexone called Contrave as a treatment for obesity. Clinical trials to date have shown that patients on Contrave lose, at most, 5% of their body weight after one year. For example, a 240-pound man could potentially lose 12 pounds in a year. So, even though bupropion may promote some weight loss, it is not the most effective way to lose weight over the long term.
For those with suicidal thoughts or a major depressive disorder, antidepressant medications may be a crucial path to health and wellbeing. Wellbutrin is proven to be effective as an antidepressant, and it does also have weight loss as a potential side effect for some people. Contrave has similarly shown some effectiveness at promoting weight loss. However, neither Wellbutrin nor Contrave have proven to be capable of promoting the magnitude of weight loss that most people would be content with.
Yet even the traditional methods of weight loss, namely a restrictive diet and vigorous exercise, are also generally ineffective in helping people lose weight and keep it off permanently. In fact, studies show that most people who lose weight through traditional methods will regain half of what they lost within two years. These results have been consistent year after year even though Americans spend tens of billions of dollars each year trying to lose weight.
It is in light of this reality that True You Weight Loss offers an alternative path for losing weight and keeping it off. Rather than burdensome diets and unsustainable exercise regimens, we offer a number of state-of-the-art non-surgical weight loss procedures that have a proven track record of success. Our passion is to provide you with the methods and support to help you meet your goals and get the life you want.
At True You, we know everyone is different and everyone has different weight loss goals. This is why we provide several different options and will help you decide the right procedure for you. Most of these procedures are intended for patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher:
While it’s true that Wellbutrin can potentially help you lose weight, the evidence to date shows that it isn't as effective as other weight loss methods. At True You, we are driven to help you make your weight loss journey a success. If you would like to learn more about any of our non-surgical weight loss procedures, contact us today to request a consultation.