Most people typically associate antidepressants with weight gain, yet many people who take antidepressants instead experience weight loss. While these weight changes have been observed in many, the reasoning behind them is not well known. Some speculate that it occurs because of the antidepressant’s effect on certain neurotransmitters, while others suspect that it may result from treating the individual’s condition (and their symptoms).
Whatever the cause, weight changes observed with antidepressant use are often minimal, and they can go either way. Some people who take Wellbutrin, one type of antidepressant, may experience weight gain, while others experience weight loss. The results can differ for each person, although weight loss (especially when focusing on healthy lifestyle habits) is typically more common.
What Is Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin is a brand name for bupropion, which is a type of antidepressant classified as an aminoketone. Aminoketones weakly inhibit the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are two neurotransmitters that send messages to nerve cells. Typically, once the message is sent, the brain reabsorbs the neurotransmitters through a process called reuptake. However, aminoketones block this reabsorption, increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
Some of the conditions which Wellbutrin has been approved to treat include seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Wellbutrin is also used to help someone quit smoking (smoking cessation).
There are also some “off-label” benefits to bupropion when used to treat bipolar disorder and ADHD. However, the FDA has not yet approved Wellbutrin for the treatment of these conditions.
Does Wellbutrin Cause Weight Gain?
Wellbutrin may cause weight gain in some individuals.
In one study on Wellbutrin and weight changes, 11% of the participants gained more than 5 pounds. However, in the same study, 23% of the participants lost 5 pounds or more. So, while Wellbutrin may cause weight gain, it can also cause weight loss.
How Does Wellbutrin Affect Your Weight?
Most of the research surrounding Wellbutrin and weight change suggest that it is more likely to cause weight loss than weight gain. However, these results are most prominent when Wellbutrin is combined with healthy lifestyle changes versus when it is used on its own.
Does Wellbutrin Make It Hard to Lose Weight?
Wellbutrin does not make it hard to lose weight, and research has shown that weight loss is often achieved when combining Wellbutrin with a balanced diet and exercise.
One study showed that taking Wellbutrin while following a calorie-deficit diet for 12 weeks showed a 5% decrease in body weight.
Wellbutrin can also help with long-term weight loss, with a 2016 study finding that the participants were more likely to maintain their weight loss from Wellbutrin if they lost at least 5% of their body weight within the first 16 weeks of taking Wellbutrin.
Do Other Antidepressants Cause Weight Gain?
Research regarding the effect of antidepressants on weight is mixed, with some studies reporting weight loss while others report weight gain. The primary reason behind this uncertainty is that many factors contribute to weight changes, and it is difficult to consider all of them when completing studies, especially long-term observational studies.
A ten-year study on more than 300,000 individuals who take antidepressants did find an increased risk of weight gain. However, the authors of the study emphasize that they could not determine if the weight gain was because of the antidepressants or because of other uncontrollable factors such as age, socioeconomic status, and genetics.
If weight change is observed, though, it is typically minimal and gradual, which makes it easier to combat using lifestyle changes such as exercise and balanced diets.
There are some antidepressants that typically have a higher likelihood of weight gain, and they include:
- Paroxetine (Pareva, Paxil)
- Nortriptyline (Aventyl)
- Imipramine (Tofranil)
- Amitriptyline (Elavil)
- Mirtazapine (Remeron)
Other Side Effects of Wellbutrin
When starting Wellbutrin, some of the most common side effects include restlessness, agitation, and insomnia. Temporarily lowering the dose or avoiding taking Wellbutrin at bedtime can often help to combat these initial side effects.
Some other side effects that affect more than 10% of all Wellbutrin users include:
- nausea and vomiting
- dry mouth
- difficulty sleeping
There is an increased risk of seizures with Wellbutrin, with 1 in 1,000 people who take Wellbutrin at risk. Because of this, Wellbutrin is not recommended for those already at a higher risk of seizures because it lowers the seizure threshold, making seizures more likely to occur.
Those who should avoid Wellbutrin include those who:
- have an active brain tumor
- have a history of epilepsy
- have experience head trauma
- have bulimia nervosa or anorexia
When To See a Doctor
If you are taking Wellbutrin and are concerned about weight changes that you have experienced, it is recommended to discuss these changes with your doctor.
Get Help from An Online Doctor
If you are interested in taking Wellbutrin, meeting with an online doctor allows you to discuss your symptoms and if this antidepressant is the best option. Additionally, if you are concerned about the weight changes you have experienced while taking Wellbutrin, you can meet with an online doctor in just 15 minutes using DrHouse to discuss your weight changes and what habits you can change to combat them.
Wellbutrin is an antidepressant that increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. It is FDA approved to treat major depressive disorder (MAD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and to aid smoking cessation. Additionally, it has found “off-label” success in treating bipolar disorder and ADHD.
Antidepressants are often associated with causing weight gain, but the evidence supporting this is split. In fact, most evidence shows a greater likelihood of antidepressants aiding weight loss, although the weight loss observed is typically minimal, only a few pounds.
If you are concerned by the weight changes observed while taking Wellbutrin, it is best to speak to a doctor about ways to combat these changes, which can typically be managed with changes in habits.
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- Fujioka, K., Plodkowski, R., O’Neil, P., Gilder, K., Walsh, B., & Greenway, F. (2016). The relationship between early weight loss and weight loss at 1 year with naltrexone ER/bupropion ER combination therapy. International Journal Of Obesity, 40(9), 1369-1375. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2016.67
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- Bupropion (Wellbutrin) | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness . (2022). Retrieved 20 July 2022, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Bupropion-(Wellbutrin)
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