Weight-loss supplements don't need FDA approval. However, the government agency is involved with regulating prescription drugs and will occasionally approve medications that can aid in weight control. Plenity, from the pharmaceutical company Gelesis, is the latest to get the green light. (Related: How to Rekindle Exercise and Weight-Loss Motivation When You Just Want to Chill and Eat Chips)
The FDA approved Plenity as a weight-management aid for people with a BMI of 25 to 40, according to a press release. For reference, BMIs of 25 to 29.9 are categorized as "overweight" and 30 or higher is considered "obese." The new medication will fill a major gap, as it's the first prescription option for people who fall within the "overweight" BMI range, but who don't have health conditions like hypertension or diabetes, according to the release. That's a huge group: More than 1 in 3 U.S. adults are considered "overweight," according to previous national survey stats.
Note, the FDA specifically cleared Plenity to be used in conjunction with diet and exercise, not as a sole mode of weight maintenance. Here's how it works: The drug is designed to increase satiety levels when taken twice a day with water-once 20 minutes before lunch and again before dinner. The pill contains a hydrogel matrix made up of cellulose (a carbohydrate found in plant-cell walls) and citric acid. Once it's in your system, the pill releases particles that absorb water in the stomach, which then translates to feeling more full without having taken in any extra calories. Then, the hydrogel is partially broken down by enzymes in the large intestine. (Related: 23 Best Weight-Loss Motivation Tips)
The FDA doesn't approve drugs for long-term weight control very often; it's previously cleared only five others. While Plenity certainly doesn't guarantee weight loss, millions of people who haven't qualified for approved medications in the past might soon have a new option to explore.