Wellbutrin weight loss: Can the prescription drug bupropion help you lose weight?

Wellbutrin weight loss: Can the prescription drug bupropion help you lose weight?

Wait—an anti-depressant can help with weight loss? Your brain, it turns out, has more to do with your appetite than you might know.

The Found Team
November 14, 2022
5 min read
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What you must know: Taking Wellbutrin (bupropion) for weight loss

Medication-assisted treatment of overweight and obesity is in the cultural zeitgeist as of late due to the popularity of the GLP-1 receptor agonist drug class (certainly, you’ve heard of Ozempic® by now). You might already know that these drugs are part of a broader group of medications that are often relied upon in top obesity clinics. Some are FDA-approved for weight management; others are FDA-approved to treat other conditions but are prescribed off-label for weight management. 

One such medication is bupropion—sold under the brand names Zyban® and Wellbutrin®. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Wellbutrin for treating certain types of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But why, you might wonder, is it being prescribed by obesity-trained clinicians for weight loss? 

Found is a doctor-designed weight loss program combining MetabolicPrint™, a proprietary metabolic health assessment engine, and obesity-trained clinicians to deliver personalized weight care for our members. We’ve gathered all the “must know” information on using Wellbutrin or bupropion for weight loss to help you make informed decisions about your health with your provider. Let’s get into it. 

What is Wellbutrin?

Unlike the antidepressants that are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which medical professionals believe work by upping serotonin levels in the brain, Wellbutrin is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI). 

NDRIs work similarly to SSRIs in that they block the reuptake of chemical messengers, but instead of serotonin, they inhibit the reuptake (or reabsorption) of norepinephrine and dopamine. Sometimes, these two important chemical messengers can malfunction, and this can cause mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Wellbutrin leads to increased norepinephrine and dopamine, which can help with depressive episodes.

In addition to treating depression, bupropion is also used for smoking cessation therapy. 

Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin XL, and Zyban® are all brand names for the medicine bupropion. However, although Wellbutrin SR and XL have the same active ingredient, how they are delivered in your body is a bit different. Wellbutrin XL is an extended-release tablet that releases more slowly than the Wellbutrin SR (sustained-release), which is released faster. 

Does Wellbutrin cause weight loss?

Dopamine and norepinephrine affect appetite and the feeling of fullness (satiety). Listening to hunger cues and controlling the urge to eat can be more difficult for people with overweight or obesity. But Wellbutrin (bupropion) leads to increased dopamine levels, which may help those with obesity experience fewer cravings. 

Wellbutrin may also help reduce body mass by improving energy levels. This can lead to feeling more energetic and being able to do light to moderate physical activity. 

A meta-analysis and review published in 2016 in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology found that in six double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials—meaning neither participants nor researchers knew if the drug or a placebo was given—each trial reported significant weight loss during bupropion treatment. The review included two long-term (52-week) follow-up studies. 

Wellbutrin weight loss is possible when used alone. But, health care professionals may also combine it with naltrexone. This FDA-approved drug helps curb cravings in addiction recovery. 

Is Wellbutrin right for you?

It depends. Many factors go into your clinician’s decision on whether or not any given medication is the right fit for you. Found-affiliated clinicians match your information to a medication via a proprietary engine that identifies the unique metabolic traits associated with your ability to maintain a healthy weight. They consider everything from your biology and lifestyle habits to the medications you’re already taking and so much more. 

The truth is, the right medication to unlock your weight loss goals is unique to you as an individual. That’s why working with a provider trained in obesity medicine is so important to your weight loss journey. 

There are other factors to consider, though. Let’s look at them.

How much does Wellbutrin cost?

While the final cost of Wellbutrin will vary with your insurance coverage and any coupon programs you might find, this medication is very affordable, especially compared to the steep price of medications like Ozempic and Wegovy®. 

Unlike the shortages with some GLP-1s, bupropion is widely available, allowingyou to jumpstart your weight loss journey almost immediately in most cases. 

Are there side effects when taking bupropion for weight loss?

While antidepressant medications are vital tools for mental health treatment, they are sometimes associated with side effects like weight gain. However, bupropion stands as an outlier. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that sertraline (brand name Zoloft®) showed a weight gain, with participants putting on an average of almost eleven pounds after two years. The same study also reported that “bupropion is the only antidepressant associated with long-term weight loss.” In addition, when taken over time, Wellbutrin is shown to steadily decrease weight in those with overweight and obesity. 

Like any medication, Wellbutrin does have some side effects.

Unlike antidepressants in the SSRI family of drugs, bupropion, an NDRI,  “has very low rates of sexual dysfunction, and is more likely to cause weight loss than gain," according to the 2016 review in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.

Wellbutrin’s reported side effects include headache, weight loss, dry mouth, trouble sleeping (insomnia), nausea, dizziness, constipation, fast heartbeat, and sore throat. However, these will typically improve over the first week or two as you continue to take the medication. Serious risks include suicidality and other psychiatric disorders. 

Additionally, patients should avoid Wellbutrin if they have a diagnosis of an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa or bulimia, a seizure disorder, people taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO), or those being treated with Zyban sustained-release pills or other medications that contain bupropion. Wellbutrin has a black box warning that it can cause suicidal thoughts and depressive symptoms in people with major depressive disorder. In all cases—whether you fall into these groups or not—talk to your health care provider before proceeding with the drug.

For a full list of side effects and risk information, visit our bupropion medication page.

How fast is weight loss on Wellbutrin?

Much like with any other medication, bupropion works differently for each individual. Some will see faster weight loss than others—that’s to be expected even for the GLP-1 medications we mentioned earlier.

However, the research on Wellbutrin weight loss is compelling. The results of a 24-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in 2012 found individuals on bupropion SR (stand release) 300mg and 400 mg per day, lost 7.2% and 10.1% of body weight, respectively. What’s also exciting is that those who completed 48 weeks in the study maintained mean losses of initial body weight of 7.5% and 8.6% for bupropion SR 300 and 400 mg per day, respectively. Meaning Wellbutrin is a potential game-changer in managing overweight and obesity. 

How long you’ll need to take bupropion for weight loss is something your Found-affiliated clinician can help you determine. It’s also important to complement your medication routine with changes to your lifestyle to ensure sustainable weight loss. Again, Found-affiliated providers and coaches work with each member to develop a personalized treatment plan to help them lose weight and keep it off.

Are there alternatives to Wellbutrin for weight loss?

There are generic versions of Wellbutrin XL and SR—bupropion XL and SR—that can be  prescribed off-label for weight loss. There are also other medications that are FDA-approved for weight loss or prescribed off-label for weight management. Rather than analyzing each drug’s respective profile to find a match, consult an obesity-trained specialist about the right one to address your unique needs.

Our verdict: Taking Wellbutrin for weight loss

For those who are properly matched with this medication, bupropion can be extremely effective when prescribed off-label to treat overweight or obesity. It’s a medication Found-affiliated providers use as part of a broader toolkit and one that our members see success with.*

Found is among the largest medically-supported telehealth weight care clinics in the country, having served nearly 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

*Individual results may vary. 

About Found

Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

Published date:
November 14, 2022
Meet the author
The Found Team
The Found Team

Sources

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  • Arterburn D, Sofer T, Boudreau DM, Bogart A, Westbrook EO, Theis MK, Simon G, Haneuse S. Long-Term Weight Change after Initiating Second-Generation Antidepressants. J Clin Med. 2016 Apr 13;5(4):48. doi: 10.3390/jcm5040048. PMID: 27089374; PMCID: PMC4850471. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4850471/
  • Gadde KM, Parker CB, Maner LG, Wagner HR 2nd, Logue EJ, Drezner MK, Krishnan KR. Bupropion for weight loss: an investigation of efficacy and tolerability in overweight and obese women. Obes Res. 2001 Sep;9(9):544-51. doi: 10.1038/oby.2001.71. PMID: 11557835. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11557835/
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Wellbutrin (bupropion). NAMI. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Bupropion-(Wellbutrin)
  • Patel K, Allen S, Haque MN, Angelescu I, Baumeister D, Tracy DK. Bupropion: a systematic review and meta-analysis of effectiveness as an antidepressant. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2016 Apr;6(2):99-144. doi: 10.1177/2045125316629071. Epub 2016 Feb 18. PMID: 27141292; PMCID: PMC4837968. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4837968/
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