Drugs That Can Promote Weight Gain

Sometimes, illness and injuries can cause unexpected weight loss. If diet and exercise don't help, your healthcare provider can recommend drugs to gain weight.

Some chronic illnesses, surgery, and trauma to the body can lead to unexpected weight loss. If your healthcare provider suggests that weight gain could be beneficial for you, they may help you create a treatment plan focused on nutrition and strength-building exercises. 

If you don’t see your desired results with food and exercise alone, weight gain pills and supplements may help. Some steroid, cannabis, and hormone-based prescriptions can help you gain weight if you lost weight due to a serious illness or are underweight despite other diet and lifestyle modifications. Studies generally show prescription weight gain medication to be effective. However, these medications can have side effects that a healthcare provider may need to monitor. 

Supplements, on the other hand, are readily available drugstore products that contain vitamins and nutrients that claim to boost your appetite, metabolism, and fitness levels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate OTC supplements, making supplements riskier to take since there's no healthcare provider oversight or ingredient regulation.

Typically, prescription weight gain pills are safer to use than over-the-counter (OTC) supplements. However, these options are not completely risk-free, so it is essential to work with your healthcare provider to find the pills that are safest for you. 

Senior Man Getting a Medical Examination

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Prescription Medication for Weight Gain

There are several medications that may help you gain weight if you are underweight or have lost a lot of weight due to illness. In most cases, prescription medications are more effective than over-the-counter supplements. 

Oxandrolone (Oxandrin)

Oxandrolone is an anabolic steroid commonly used to treat muscle and weight loss caused by illness, surgery, or trauma. Anabolic steroids are artificial substances that mimic testosterone, a hormone your body produces naturally that promotes muscle growth. 

Research shows that oxandrolone can boost appetite in people undergoing chemotherapy and promote weight gain among severe burn survivors. Potential side effects of oxandrolone include:

  • Insomnia
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Changes in blood lipid levels, including cholesterol

Providers typically recommend oxandrolone for short-term use (up to four weeks at a time) along with a nutrition program for weight gain. Some people may need a second course of oxandrolone to reach their desired weight.

Oxymetholone (Anapolon)

Oxymetholone is an anabolic steroid that can promote muscle gain and strength for people with anemia, a common blood disorder that occurs when the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells to promote oxygen. This medication can stimulate muscle growth, increase red blood cell production, and improve bone density.

One study found oxymetholone increased body mass and handgrip strength in people with kidney disease and anemia. However, the study warned that the medication may also cause liver damage.

Additional side effects of oxymetholone may include:

In the United States, the common brand Anadrol has been discontinued. However, oxymetholone is still available as a generic form or by the brand Anapolon.

You may take oxymetholone for up to six months. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a smaller daily dose if needed after the initial course of medication.

Megace ES (Megestrol)

Megace ES is a hormone-based weight gain medication that mimics the sex hormone progesterone. Progesterone is thought to affect weight gain because it can increase appetite and hunger levels. 

Studies show that megestrol is effective at promoting weight gain in people who have experienced weight loss due to HIV, anorexia, breast cancer, or endometrial cancer. This medication can come in pill or liquid form and is typically taken once a day.  

It may take several weeks for you to notice an improvement in appetite and weight gain. Side effects of megestrol may include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased sex drive 
  • Skin rash

Marinol (Dronabinol)

Marinol is an FDA-approved artificial form of cannabis. Studies show that this drug can increase appetite in people with HIV and treat nausea or vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

Marinol is available both as an oral pill and as an oil-based solution for people who have difficulty swallowing capsules. Side effects of cannabinoids may include:

  • Feeling “high”
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Paranoia

However, you can typically manage these symptoms by adjusting how much medication you take.

Weight Gain Supplements

Weight gain supplements are commonly available over the counter at drugstores. They typically come in the form of pills or powders and claim to boost appetite, metabolism, muscle mass, and athletic performance. However, experts warn that supplements should be used with caution. Here's why.

Lack of FDA Regulation

OTC supplements aren't regulated for safety, effectiveness, and quality by the FDA like prescription medications. It is possible for supplements to contain potentially dangerous ingredients that aren't listed on the label. They may also interact with other medications you're currently taking, which can potentially result in serious or life-threatening reactions.

Lack of Scientific Evidence

Currently, little evidence exists about the effectiveness of weight gain supplements. It's unlikely that the use of these supplements alone would help you gain weight without a proper nutrition plan and fitness routine.

If you wish to use over-the-counter drugs, speak to your healthcare provider to determine whether these supplements are safe for you. 

How to Gain Weight Without Pills

If your body weight has dropped below your preferred range, but your overall health is good, there are other expert-recommended ways to meet your goals without using prescription medications or OTC supplements. Under the guidance of a healthcare provider, most people can safely add pounds without weight gain pills by using the following methods. 

Making Dietary Changes

Eating more calories than your body burns is an effective way to increase weight. To do so in a healthy way, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends focusing on eating more nutrient-rich foods (like grains, nuts, and full-fat dairy) rather than empty-calorie foods (like chips or cookies). Consider working with a registered dietician to develop a personalized healthy weight gain nutrition plan that works best for you and your body.

Switching Up Your Workouts

If your current fitness routine mostly consists of lots of cardio, like running or biking, you might try making some changes. Lifting weights and increasing your protein intake can increase lean muscle mass over time. Because muscles are denser than fat, becoming stronger can help you gain weight in a healthy way. You may consider visiting a local YMCA or community gym for personal training or fitness class options to help guide you through this process.

A Quick Review 

While there is no quick fix to gaining weight, speak with your healthcare provider about your options. They may recommend a fitness routine or nutrition plan to help you gain weight. If these options do not work, you may look for OTC supplements or ask your provider for a prescription for a weight gain medication. 

Research shows that prescribed medications are more effective and safer to use than OTC supplements. As frustrating as your situation may be, it is important to work with a healthcare professional to find the treatment plan that is best for your individual health and does not compromise your safety. 

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