Is Contrave Effective for Weight Loss?

Is Contrave Effective for Weight Loss?

There are currently around 72 million people in the US who are categorized as obese.

As a serious health risk, being overweight is linked with a number of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. It’s becoming an ever-increasing problem and as many as 300,000 deaths per year can be attributed to obesity-related conditions.

Many people opt for prescription drugs to help with weight loss. But surprisingly, many of these medications aren’t as effective as you’re led to believe.

In this article we take a look at Contrave – a combination product previously used in isolation for addiction and mental health illnesses.

Could it be the key to weight loss? Let’s take a look…

What is Contrave?

Contrave is a combination of two much older prescription drugs – an antidepressant called bupropion and a drug used to treat addiction called naltrexone.

As a formulated drug, it was approved by the food and drug administration (FDA) in 2014 and the European Union in 2015. This was after being initially rejected in 2011 due to concerns over cardiovascular risks [1].

Contrave has been made available for prescription to help weight management for those that have weight-related medical problems. It isn’t for those who want to shed a few pounds or to tighten up the abs – unless you have a BMI of over 30 or are overweight with a related medical condition, it’s unlikely that you’d be given the drug.

How Does Contrave Work?

This drug is said to work on two areas of the brain – the ones that regulate both appetite and reward. The proposed dual action of the two drugs is said to stimulate the central melanocortin pathways, which may lead to reduced appetite [2].

Naltrexone is a type of drug referred to as an opioid antagonist. What this means is that it binds to your opioid receptors and blunts the chemicals that are associated with pleasure or euphoria.

Used commonly to help people overcome drug or alcohol addiction, it’s role in this case is to stop cravings for food as well as the pleasure you get from it.

Bupropion is a type of antidepressant that has been previously used to help people overcome depression, seasonal effective disorder and other related illnesses.

Neither drug has a direct effect on weight loss as such. In fact, research published in Pharmacy and Therapeutics [3] suggests that the mechanism by which the combination drug may induce weight loss is not entirely understood.

What is clear though, is that whilst nutrients such as thermogenics elevate your metabolic rate and directly burn fat, this drug effects the brain and the way you might perceive hunger and food.

Continuous treatment

One review study of anti-obesity drugs says that drugs such as Contrave often require continuous treatment to achieve and maintain weight loss [1]. 

This means that the cost of your prescription could soon mount up over time. If you come off of it at any point you may run the risk of putting weight back on.

It’s expensive

Without insurance you can expect to pay up to $300 per month for Contrave. The question is of course, is this cost worth it?

Let’s see what the studies say about the drug…

What’s The Science Behind Contrave?

Clinically proven?

As a new (and quite experimental) drug, Contrave has very little scientific research behind it. A search of all clinical trials relating to the drug brings up a minimal number of studies. And these are mostly funded by manufacturers of the drug themselves.

The studies that have been conducted aren’t that impressive either. 

Study #1.

The most robust clinical trial was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. It sounds complicated, but it’s pretty much the highest level of research you’ll find. If it says a drug works, it works. If it says it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

The research, conducted at the Pennington Research Center in Louisiana [4], and published in the prestigious journal Lancet, found that 52-week use of Contrave could lead to a 5% reduction in body weight.

The problem is though that when you look deeper in the research, only 42% of the volunteers lost this much weight. That means that well over half of the volunteers lost less weight than you’d expect from a normal calorie-controlled diet.

Adding that to the period of time the weight was lost, as well as the high cost of the drug – that’s a disappointing result.

It is worth noting as well that the manufacturers of Contrave were made to conduct this long study before the FDA would grant it approval as a weight loss drug.

The result: a disappointing amount of weight loss over such a long trial period.

Study #2.

A large review study published in 2011 [3] critically analyzed the safety and effectiveness of Contrave.

They found that it may be more effective for weight loss than basic lifestyle changes. However, the review did detail some side effects that it had concerns over.

The result: it might work but there are concerns over its safety.

Key Point: Contrave might help you lose weight, but research is very limited. It’s safety and effectiveness as an anti-obesity drug is currently classed as ‘not established’.

Serious Side Effects

The list of potential adverse reactions and side effects is worrying.

Mental and neural health

Firstly, it increases the risk of seizures. This is likely down to the direct effect it has on the nervous system.

If you take this drug you may suffer from opioid withdrawal, much like a recovering drug addict. And in large doses you may even suffer from opioid overdose.

If you check the warning notes of the FDA it warns you that taking Contrave may increase suicidal thoughts and behaviour as well as neuro-psychiatric reactions.

Blood pressure

Contrave can cause an increase in blood pressure and resting heart rate. In some cases, the increases have been severe and required treatment.

And with many overweight people also suffering high blood pressure and heart disease, you may not be prescribed this drug for safety reasons.

Common adverse reactions

Two clinical studies have reported a list of common adverse effects in those taking Contrave [4,5]. The chances of suffering from one, if not more of these is as follows:

  • Nausea – 27-35%
  • Headache – 14-24%
  • Consipation – 15-24%
  • Dizzines – 7-14%
  • Dry mouth – 8%

Summary – Is Contrave the Answer?

With only a minimal amount of clinical research to go by, Contrave is definitely an under-studied drug. And the research that is available isn’t convincing either.

Until more robust trials are made available, the cost of the drug is more appropriate and further information on adverse effects is made available, we suggest that you avoid Contrave altogether.

Instead you should opt for a weight loss aid that uses only natural ingredients with a well-researched profile.

  1. Kang, JG et al. Anti-obesity drugs: a review about their effects and safety. Diabetes Metab J. 2012; 36(1): 13-25
  2. Padwal, R. Contrave, a bupropion and naltrexone combination therapy for the potential treatment of obesity. Current Opinion in Investigational Drugs. 
  3. Ornellas, T et al. Naltrexone SR/Bupropion SR (Contrave): A New Approach to Weight Loss in Obese Adults. PT. 2011; 36(5): 255-256, 261-262
  4. Greenway, FL et al. Effect of naltrexone plus bupropion on weight loss in overweight and obese adults (COR-I): a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 3 trial. Lancet 2010; 376: 595–605
  5. Wadden, TA et al. Weight loss with naltrexone SR/bupropion SR combination therapy as an adjunct to behavior modification: The COR–BMOD Trial. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2011; 19(1): 110-120