Tag Archives: obesity


S. N. Kreitzman Ph.D, R.Nutr.

Howard Foundation Research

Treating overweight, but not-yet-obese people, in pharmacy, is obesity prevention on the high street. There are over 30 million overweight and obese people in the United Kingdom. Since no one ever became obese without first being overweight, it is important to provide real help to people at this stage. It is much less problematic to help people who do not have a massive amount of weight to lose and who also do not yet have some of the serious medical consequences associated with excess weight.



Pharmacy has become the prime location for weight management in the UK and Ireland. With the NHS ‘Call to Action’, pharmacy professional bodies are urging pharmacists to make their voices heard and shout about the good they do in improving people’s health. Take weight management for example. Helping people lose weight is not just about making them feel good but is also about preventing major long-term health problems, such as type 2 diabetes. This point was very well illustrated in a recent article in GP magazine that reported a staggering sevenfold rise in insulin use in type 2 diabetes over a nine year period.

But it seems that it’s not just the NHS that needs to hear what pharmacy has to say. The public do too. North London LPC was inundated with enquiries about a newsletter it had produced raising awareness of pharmacy services in the area.

So what does that mean to you as a pharmacist with a team already offering an established weight management service? Promote your service far and wide and show the public and the NHS what you’ve been doing to improve the health of the nation.

Fin McCaul, for example, is first and foremost a community pharmacist practicing in Manchester. He is also the Chairman of the Independent Pharmacy Federation and works for Bury CCG one day per week as its Long Term Conditions Lead.

Fin’s passion for independent pharmacy is second only to helping patients lose weight and stop smoking. With an average of 100 quits per year and well over 1000 patients helped through the weight loss service in his pharmacy, there is nobody better placed to talk about the opportunities and challenges for pharmacy now that Public Health commissioning has moved into the care of Local Authorities.

Delegation, motivation and marketing skills and advice for pharmacists and their team are just some of the benefits from his Stop Smoking/Weight loss clinics. At the 2013 Pharmacy show he organised a series of Patient Services Workshops delivered by Pharmacists who are successfully running weight services in their local community and want to share their knowledge and expertise.

Fin’s expertise and results are not just anecdotes. He, along with many of the pharmacies treating overweight and obesity are generating extensive audit data from their weight management services. Results from one of his pharmacy audits below show the percentage of initial weight lost by over 1100 of his patients.




Pharmacy is an excellent provider of weight services for the community. Many overweight people in the BMI 25-30 range take advantage of pharmacy weight loss programmes recognising that they really work and confident that they are being monitored by healthcare professionals. Pharmacists’ expertise in weight management, however has proven extremely valuable for the treatment of obese and even the morbidly obese people. This is a group who could have qualified for bariatric surgery at great expense, risk and often compromised future life.

Effective weight loss absolutely needs to be monitored by knowledgeable healthcare professionals, because real weight loss is not benign. Type 2 diabetics, for example, who lose weight by compliance with a total food replacement diet programme, will induce remission of their diabetes within a few days and therefore continuing with hypoglycaemic medication can get them into serious difficulty. There are multitudes of patients taking medications such as warfarin or lithium, drugs which have a very narrow safety spectrum. Dieting can alter the absorption rate for these drugs so these patients need their dosages to be carefully monitored. There are some people who really should not be dieting at all. Pregnant women, patients with a recent history of surgery, stroke or heart attack are not logical candidates for weight loss. Effective weight loss should not be left to amateurs or internet sales. Healthcare professionals are needed, especially in pharmacy where continuous care can be provided even after the weight is lost, because weight maintenance requires the greatest attention and is not usually possible in a busy medical practice and appears to be almost impossible without professional help.


Although it is traditional to show successful dieters proudly occupying trousers which are now several sizes too large, there isn’t enough space to print over 13,000 examples. Results from this single audit of a group of pharmacies out of a collection of more than 2000 UK and Irish pharmacies currently treating overweight and obesity, is a vivid demonstration of the evidence base being accumulated for this absolutely essential community service from pharmacy.

Pharmacy is the only reliable community service providing and documenting long term weight management without the need major research grants or health service funding. Although there has been widespread press coverage for a £2.4 million grant by Diabetes UK to attempt to demonstrate that type 2 diabetes can be put into remission by effective weight loss, a fact that has been repeatedly reported in the medical press for over 30 years, pharmacies have been quietly and routinely succeeding with diabetes prevention and remission in their high street branches. Unlike bariatric surgeons, who need to justify the cost and risk of providing weight loss by surgical means on the basis of the phenomenal cost savings on the treatment of diabetes alone, weight loss in the pharmacy can accomplish the same results without massive expense and risk. And since total food replacement methods remove the substances of abuse for prolonged periods of time from those who may be suffering from a dopamine response to eating excess in their nucleus accombans , they don’t show the common addiction transfer syndrome that seems to be so common after bariatric surgery.


While activists continue to bellow about the size of soft drink containers, pharmacists are demonstrating how much their education and skills can be amplified by the convenience of access on the high streets of the UK. Pharmacy stands alone among the healthcare professionals in providing fantastic public health services such as smoking cessation, weight management, diabetes recognition, prevention and even treatment, medicines review, hypertension assessment and a host of other essential services very much needed in the real world. A major thank you is overdue.



Pharmacists can play an important role in weight management.
And there’s evidence to support their effectiveness.

Early in October 2010, the National Obesity Forum Conference in London heard a presentation by Fin McCaul, the pharmacist at Prestwich Pharmacy in Manchester. Mr McCaul, who is also chair of the Independent Pharmacy Federation, was presenting his pharmacy’s outstanding results in treating overweight and obesity at the pharmacy. His paper, ‘Options for the orbidly obese’, was based on 1,148 overweight patients with a median initial BMI of 33.6 kg/m2
enrolled into the Lipotrim weight management programme. Of these patients, 25 per cent were morbidly obese with a BMI >40 kg/m2. At the time of audit, during which many patients were still actively dieting, the median BMI had decreased to <30 kg/m2. Results showed that 94 per cent of the dieters lost more than 5 per cent of their pre-diet weight, 47 per cent lost more than 10 per cent, and 21 per cent of the patients lost more than 20 per cent. The presentation highlighted the impressive weight loss results being achieved in pharmacy. Given that the organisers of the programme chose to position the presentation in the section of the conference devoted to bariatric surgery, Mr McCaul concentrated his results on the subset of the dieters who were of greatest relevance to the surgeons – the morbidly obese. Morbidly obese people are generally considered ‘heart sink’ cases; they are notoriously difficult to treat. The reason is largely due to the common chemistry with other examples of substance abuse. Recognition of this common chemistry is now leading to the development of weight management strategies involving drugs which are important in the treatment of alcohol and drug addictions.

1-6aAdvantages of weight loss
There is certainly plenty of justification for helping overweight patients. Weight loss can lower blood pressure, normalise blood lipids, practically eliminate type 2 diabetes, reduce the severity of asthma, bring relief to arthritics, increase the fertility of women hoping for pregnancy, relieve sleep apnoea, and provide an opportunity for patients to be considered for Pharmacists can play an important role in weight management. And there’s evidence to support their effectiveness. elective surgery. Loss of weight can decrease the need for antidepressants, make exercise more possible – thus improving cardiovascular health, and can vastly improve the quality of life for patients. Methods of treatment, however, are not universally agreed upon. Somewhat unsurprisingly, bariatric surgeons tend to favour the surgical approach to weight loss. According to the Department of Bariatric Surgery at Imperial College, the current burden of morbid obesity in the UK is approximately 720,000 patients who meet NICE criteria for eligibility for surgery. In 2008 only 4,000 operations for morbid obesity were performed in the public and private sector combined. Even if the number of patients being treated by surgery was doubled, the impact on the problem would still be small and fall far short of the treatment needs of the seriously overweight population. Most surveys estimate that in the UK about 60 per cent of the population are overweight and about 30 per cent are already obese. Assuming a 60 million UK population, the number of people with a weight problem calculates to 36 million overweight and 18 million obese. Treating this many people surgically is unrealistic, to say the least. In addition, there is an increasing tendency for people to seek less expensive or more readily available bariatric surgery abroad, which has led to an ethical dilemma for NHS specialists. The costs to the NHS of providing aftercare, expected free by UK citizens, or emergency subsequent surgery when procedures initiated abroad go wrong, can be unplanned for and a substantial drain on NHS resources2.
Pharmacists’ role
Bariatric surgeons (in the current absence of a selection of effective weight loss drugs) are increasingly attempting to convince the public and the professionals that surgery is the only method of effectively treating seriously overweight people. The evidence presented by Mr McCaul clearly demonstrated that there is a non-invasive treatment that can be as effective. Like the claims for remission of diabetes as a result of the surgery, diabetes remissions are obtained by pharmacists as well since it is the loss of weight that leads to the remission. Usually, the blood sugar control is so rapid that it has become mandatory to get the doctor’s cooperation in stopping oral hypoglycaemic medications prior to the patient dieting. Without this step, patients are not permitted to participate in the Lipotrim programme. The results presented for this difficult cohort of morbidly obese patients was suitably impressive. These were very large individuals indeed, with half presenting with a BMI above 45 – the heaviest just below BMI 70. From this subset of 267 patients, the results reported were:

  • Median BMI was 45.1 at enrolment;
  • 237 patients lost over 5 per cent of pre-diet weight;
  • 141 had lost over 10 per cent of pre-diet weight;
  • 34 patients had lost over 20 per cent.

The programme at Prestwich is only one of more than 1,500 UK pharmacies treating overweight patients in this way. What’s more, the introduction of Lipotrim’s patient tracker software now permits on-demand audits of the results obtained by each pharmacy – essential for demonstrating effectiveness for commissioning requirements. Mr McCaul’s audience – primarily surgeons – listened for the most part in attentive silence, but the questions put to him at the end of his presentation were extremely revealing and illuminating. One overly distressed questioner was seriously worried that a few weeks of what is essentially a nutrientcomplete enteral feed (to effectively treat morbid obesity and its medical consequences) would compromise the patient’s relationship with food and cause chaos in the family dynamic. As she summed it up: there was a risk of “demonising food”. Leaving aside for a moment the point that bariatric surgery is an invasive and dangerous procedure that results in a state of permanent malnutrition, it is worth remembering that morbidly obese individuals generally have a very destructive relationship with food. To these individuals, food is a substance of obsession and addiction, and eating is a compulsive behaviour. Modifying the patient’s relationship with food is arguably a very worthwhile goal.

One of the more disturbing post-surgical problems (being widely reported from the US, where large numbers of surgeries are performed) is the unexpected and unwelcome problem of addiction transfer. A quick Google search unearths the massive scope of the problem, in which the loss of the ability to eat (due to weight loss surgery) is apparently leading to the development of substitute addictions – to alcohol, drugs and other destructive activities.

1-6bTotal food replacement
The total food replacement programme owes its success in no small part to the first principle that – instead of inducing malnutrition – the formulated enteral feeds are generally much more nutritious than the ordinary food choices of the
patients. As all essential nutrients are provided, the patients remain healthy throughout their programme. Where there
is a component of food abuse associated with the weight problem, the nutrient formulas are the only way that normal
foods – the addictive substances – can be safely eliminated so that the dieter can have a better chance of success.
An expanding network of pharmacists is offering a range of treatments for weight problems. Pharmacists have the training, the respect of the public, the contact hours and the desire to offer weight management as a professional service.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that specialists be used for extended treatments involving total food replacement. Pharmacists that join this programme are trained and experienced specialists in this area.
Unlike surgery, there is no cost to the NHS, and no serious sideeffects.

The cost to the patient is less than the money a morbidly obese individual will have been spending on food, and the level of weight loss is sufficient to put type 2 diabetes into remission. The documented and audited successes of these dieters is a welcome testament to the leadership role that pharmacists are taking by providing important healthcare services to their community

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Obesity has been linked to addiction.

What does this mean for the future of weight management?

Weight loss by total food replacement (the elimination of all food from the diet) is seen by some as a draconian and unnecessary approach to the management of obesity. When trying to devise a successful weight loss programme, the optimum approach would appear to be fairly straightforward simply reduce the daily caloric intake to a point below the level of calorie utilisation. In layman’s terms. just eat less. Indeed, there are many different approaches currently available, all based around the notion of eating less: low carb, low fat, calorie counting, behaviour modification (smaller plates) etc, not to mention the plethora of meal replacement programmes in which a small amount of non-formula foods may be consumed. Why then, would anyone need to use a total food replacement formula (very low calorie diet) in order to lose weight?

It is true that each of the available approaches to calorie restriction can have successful outcomes, even in cases where the logic of a diet plan is spurious or medically dubious, or possibly even in violation of the laws of thermodynamics. Whatever the given approach of a specific diet plan might be, it will Lead to weight loss if it reduces a dieter’s daily calorie intake to a point below the body’s daily requirement.

Unfortunately, nothing in life is ever that simple. Despite a bewildering selection of diet programmes, self-help books, drugs, even surgical interventions, the increase in overweight and obesity continues almost unabated. Weight regain is virtually universal regardless of the method of weight loss or the will of the dieter. Even post-surgical weight regain remains one of the bewildering frustrations of the field. The consequences of relentless gain of weight, however, in terms of medical co-morbidities, healthcare costs and personal quality of Life, make it necessary to find answers.

Obesity and addiction

The solution to obesity should be trivial, as we have already seen. All dieters have to do is just eat Less.

In addition, many people can and do control their eating behaviour and never appear to be in danger of escalation into obesity.

For those who do become obese however, their food behaviour often displays the compulsions and cravings of an addiction. Indeed, it is when food consumption is put into the context of other addictive behaviours that the nature of the problem becomes clear. The link between addiction and obesity 15 even being exploited in the search for drugs to combat obesity, as can be seen in the 30 July 2010 report in The Lancet on the use of naitrexone in conjunction with bupropion as a weight loss treatment.

How robust is the parallel between drug addiction and obesity, and are there insights from the research into addiction that can guide our treatment of overweight? Not all people who are exposed to habit-forming drugs become addicted, just as not all people exposed to high-fat, high-calorie foods become obese. Vast numbers of people consume moderate amounts of alcohol and do not advance to alcoholism. Many people are able to stop smoking as they take on board the health consequences of continuing.

Drugs and food appear to activate common reward circuitry in the brain. The brain naturally produces opiates: drug-like chemicals that cause pleasure sensations and are linked to addictions. Animal studies show that these chemicals can be a trigger for sweet, fatty cravings. And consuming such foods make the brain produce even more of the chemicals (as shown, for example, in studies of rats fed chocolate milk). When the brain’s normal opiate production was blocked, rats chose their normal feed over previously tempting sweets.

Drewnowski tested this approach on 41 women (bingers and normal eaters). They were offered their favourite foods. from pretzels and jelly beans to chocolate chip cookies and chocolate ice cream. Half received injections of naloxone, a drug used to treat heroin overdose because it blocks brain opiate receptors. The rest were given a placebo of saline.

Naloxone made the bingers eat considerably less – 160 fewer calories per meal, as Drewlowski reported in the American journal of C!nicol Nutrition. Their chocolate consumption dropped in favour of lower fat foods like popcorn. When asked to rate their favourite foods again, chocolate was rated lower than before. Significantly however, the non-bingers weren’t affected, a finding that might limit the widespread efficacy of the drug combination referred to above. If a person’s obesity is related to compulsive behaviour then this research is very encouraging. For others, however, its effectiveness will be extremely limited. In other words, it may only help those patients it can help.

If we accept a component of addiction in food abuse and ultimately obesity, then we need to recognise that the most powerful long term treatment for addictions is complete abstinence from the addictive substance. A reformed smoker is someone who does not smoke. A reformed alcoholic is someone who does not drink.

Alcoholics note that it is easier to draw a line between zero drinks and one drink, than between the first and second or even the sixth and seventh. There is an exact parallel with seriously overweight people: the introduction of almost any food can trigger the need for substantial food consumption. Unfortunately for the overweight, total abstinence from food is generally not considered feasible or even survivable. As a result, this most powerful tool for the control of food abuse is usually overlooked.

From a biological point of view, however, it is important to recognise that the human body does not survive on food, it Survives on nutrition. We require a constant supply of a very specific list of chemicals (nutrients) to sustain ourselves. These chemicals are typically ingested in the food we eat. Because there is no single food that exactly matches the nutritional needs of a human being, it is important that we receive our nutrition from a diverse range of foods. For an addict who abuses food, this presents a serious problem one that the mantra ‘just eat less’ completely fails to address.

Total food replacement programmes

The advantage of a total food replacement programme is that nutrition is provided by an engineered formula that is nutritionally complete. allowing the dieter to remove the addictive substance (food) from his of her fife while the weight is lost. The value of a total food replacement formula programme in the treatment of overweight and obesity should now be obvious. Total food replacement is the only means by which those who are subject to food abuse may avoid the addictive stimulus that perpetuates their weight problem.

This begs the question of how to proceed once the excess weight has been lost. Although the smoker should not return to cigarettes, and the alcoholic should not begin drinking again, the idea of avoiding traditional foods for life is a disturbing prospect, and one that no one would actually promote. The concept of permanently denying the pleasures of the table is unlikely even for the most food-averted of the population: itis inconceivable for the food addicted. There will inevitably be a food future, with the possibility (even probability) of weight regain. The availability of total food replacement formulas for future weight correction is likely the factor that protects against addiction transfer, an overwhelming and destructive consequence of weight reduction surgery.

Addiction transfer is a worrying and increasingly reported after-effect of bariatric surgery, as the loss of weight apparently does nothing to alleviate the addictive behaviour. Up to BO per cent of post surgical patients are reported to be transferring their addiction to other quarters (alcohol, gambling, promiscuous behaviour etc) to the point of self destruction. Addiction transfer appears to have a neurological basis, as research suggests that the same biochemical processes are at work in multiple types of impulse-control disorders. Each seems to trigger the same reward sites in the brain, resulting in cravings that are difficult to resist.

Weight loss with very low calorie diets has a clear advantage. When used strictly. ketogenic total food replacement diets are not perceived by the body as a deprivation condition requiring an alternative pleasurable stimulus which can lead to addiction transfer. Once in ‘ketosis’, a high percentage of patients report a mild euphoria or at least a sense of comfort and well being. VLCDs are rapidly being recognised as perhaps the only weight loss method that engenders the many health benefits of weight 1055 and crucially leaves the patient physically and psychologically healthy afterwards.

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