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

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Maybe you’ve heard of bupropion—sold under the brand names Zyban® and Wellbutrin®—through the grapevine and want to learn more about it before considering this medication for weight loss. Or maybe it’s something you already use to help you on your weight-care journey. Regardless of where you fall, you may have questions about it. That’s where we come in. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Wellbutrin, and health care professionals commonly prescribe it to treat certain types of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s shown to be extremely effective at relieving symptoms of these conditions. 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). And in addition to treating depression, it’s also used for smoking cessation. 

NDRIs work similarly to SSRIs in that they block the reuptake of chemical messengers, but instead of serotonin, it is believed they inhibit the reuptake (or reabsorption) of norepinephrine and dopamine. Sometimes, these two important chemical messengers can malfunction and cause mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Wellbutrin may increase norepinephrine and dopamine and help with depressive episodes (along with the other conditions we mentioned).

As the conversation around depression and anxiety has shifted to an open and normal thing, drugs like this are being discussed more openly. 

Wellbutrin may also help in weight-loss efforts when used alone. Health care professionals may also combine it with naltrexone—an FDA-approved drug that helps curb cravings in addiction recovery. But with all this information, we want to help you understand it. Let’s jump in.

Wellbutrin weight loss: is it true?

The first things we tend to research when starting an antidepressant, or any new drug in general, are the side effects. Additionally, when you first Google search side effects about antidepressant medications, you may see weight gain as a potential one. This may cause anxiety and concerns about taking them—especially if you’re trying to lose weight or already have obesity, overweight, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that sertraline (brand name Zoloft®) showed a weight gain, with participants putting on almost eleven pounds after two years. The same study also reported that “bupropion is the only antidepressant associated with long-term weight loss.” 

But, in contrast to the common side effects associated with other antidepressant medications, studies on Wellbutrin suggest it’s the least likely to cause weight gain and can actually lead to weight loss. In addition, when taken over a period of time, Wellbutrin is shown to steadily decrease weight in those with overweight and obesity. Even more, bupropion, the active ingredient in Wellbutrin, is used for weight management to treat overweight and obesity at Found. Wellbutrin weight loss can be significant for those with obesity or overweight.

How does Wellbutrin cause weight loss?

Dopamine and norepinephrine affect appetite and feeling full (satiety). The ability to control the urge to eat can be more difficult for people with overweight or obesity. But Wellbutrin leads to increased dopamine levels and may help those with obesity experience fewer cravings. 

It 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. (Hint hint: getting stronger and better at your freestyle swim stroke.)

A meta-analysis and review published in 2016 in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology found that in six double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials—meaning neither the participant nor researcher 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 SR and XL: What’s the difference?

With all the names bupropion goes by, like Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin XL, and Zyban®, it’s easy to get confused about how they vary and why. 

Wellbutrin and Zyban are brand names. However, Wellbutrin SR and XL are a bit different. They contain bupropion—the main active ingredient—but depending on which one you take, your body will absorb into your body at different rates. 

Wellbutrin XL is an extended-release tablet that releases more slowly than the Wellbutrin SR (sustained-release), which is released faster. Found-affiliated clinicians don’t prescribe Wellbutrin XL and SR but do prescribe bupropion to members who qualify and for whom bupropion is part of an effective treatment plan. Your Found health care provider will discuss options and decide which medication is best for you. 

Additionally, generic versions of Wellbutrin XL and SR—bupropion XL and SR— are also available for weight loss.

How long does it take Wellbutrin to work for weight loss?  

While every person’s response to medicines is different, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), “sleep, energy, or appetite may show some improvement within the first 1-2 weeks. Improvement in physical symptoms can be an important early signal that the medication is working.” But NAMI also notes it may take 6 to 8 weeks to see a full improvement (for depression and anxiety). This is a general timeframe, and how long it takes Wellbutrin to work for you varies based on the individual.

Along those same lines, how long you’ll need to take bupropion is something you’ll discuss with your Found-affiliated provider. However, health care providers often prescribe it for an extended period for sustainable weight care and to continue treating overweight and obesity. Additionally, no known problems exist with taking bupropion long-term—as long as you take it exactly as directed. Wellbutrin for weight loss seems to be tolerated very well in patients taking the drug. 

However, you may be wondering why Wellbutrin does cause weight loss and if it will work in your body, specifically.

Are there other Wellbutrin side effects besides weight loss? 

Like other meds, it’s important to fully understand the scope of what you’re taking and if there are any risks involved. One great thing about Wellbutrin for weight loss is it doesn’t have many not-so-amazing side effects.

Studies report that with SSRIs, sexual dysfunction is a main side effect—meaning erectile dysfunction can happen in men and dry, painful sex or the inability to climax in women. But Wellbutrin (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.

Even with fewer side effects than many antidepressants, there can still be some. Reported side effects include headache, weight loss, dry mouth, trouble sleeping (insomnia), nausea, dizziness, constipation, fast heartbeat, and sore throat. But, according to NAMI, these will often improve over the first week or two as you continue to take the medication. 

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. And Wellbutrin has a black box warning that it can cause suicidal thoughts and depressive symptoms in people with major depressive disorder. So, in all cases—whether you fall into these groups or not—talk to your health care provider before proceeding with the drug.

Bupropion is only one of many medications Found prescribes for weight loss. With medical advice often everywhere around you, your Found health care provider will spend the time to talk through which one is right for you. Wellbutrin has been proven to be effective for long-term use.

Still feeling unsure about Wellbutrin for weight loss?

We get it, and it’s understandable you want to be completely informed when trying an antidepressant drug you can take for weight loss. In a 2012 study, more weight-loss results were uncovered. This study included adults with obesity who had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. After 24 weeks, 227 patients completed the trial, and 192 completed the 48 weeks. 

In this placebo-controlled randomized trial, patients received bupropion SR 300 mg, 400 mg, or a placebo.  At 24 weeks, participants lost an average of 7.2% of their body weight when taking the 300 mg dose and 10.1% when taking the 400 mg dose of bupropion SR compared to an average of 5% for those on the placebo. And at 48 weeks, participants lost an average of 7.5%-8.6% of body weight (depending on dose). Meaning Wellbutrin is a potential game-changer in managing overweight and obesity. For a full list of side effects, visit our bupropion medication page.

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

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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.

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