Drug helps women who stop smoking keep weight off

SmokingNaltrexone, a medication being tested to help smokers kick the habit also may help avoid the weight gain that is common after quitting but only in women, according to a study published in the December issue of Biological Psychiatry. This is the first medication shown to reduce weight gain for up to one year in women smokers who quit.

Naltrexone is an opioid blocker that can dampen the desire for alcohol, heroin and nicotine, as well as the pleasures of eating. It helped men improve their quit rates after three months of treatment in a large controlled trial, from 17 percent for those who did not get the drug up to 30 percent for those who did. The drug did not improve quit rates for women beyond that of the placebo. But for the women who successfully quit smoking, their weight gain was reduced by more than half. After three months, those who took naltrexone gained an average of 2.3 pounds while those who took a placebo gained 5.1 pounds.

“When trying to stop smoking, women tend to gain more weight than men and to be more concerned about gaining that weight,” said study author Andrea King, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago Medicine. “Women who try to quit may be so worried about putting on weight in the process that they soon give up, and this is less commonly found in men. Adding naltrexone to standard treatment might help women get through that difficult early period.”

Read more about this study in our Newsroom.

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King, A., Cao, D., Zhang, L., & O’Malley, S. (2012). Naltrexone Reduction of Long-Term Smoking Cessation Weight Gain in Women But Not Men: A Randomized Controlled Trial Biological Psychiatry DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.09.025

About Matt Wood (514 Articles)

Matt Wood is a senior science writer at the University of Chicago Medicine and nonfiction editor for Another Chicago Magazine.

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