5 sneaky factors (and meds) that cause weight gain

Patients often want to know why they are gaining weight. If you’re eating reasonably and getting some exercise, you have to dig a little deeper… because there are literally hundreds of factors that could be contributing to unwanted weight gain.

Food and physical activity

The best place to start is to look at what you’re doing now — or not doing. How active are you… and what have you been eating?

These are the #1 and #2 reasons you should examine first. But while there’s bound to be a little guilt in this area, let me remind you of some important concepts regarding food and activity…

First off, everyone has a different rate of metabolism due to genetics and lifestyle patterns. So, if you’re one who can put on weight easily from what you eat, take a very close look at how carbohydrates affect you. If simple carbohydrates stick to your body quickly, here’s is my advice:

  1. Be wary of foods that turn to sugar quickly, which then become stored as fat on your body: bread, pasta, white rice, and all the sweetened processed foods you see in all the middle aisles of the grocery store. One trick is to always eat a large salad or low glycemic fruit (not bananas or pineapple) if you do eat a dessert food. The fiber and nutrients of the vegetables and fruits lower the rapid absorption of the sugar food.
  2. Optimize dinner time: Eating after 6 pm, followed with very little activity, means your dinner food calories will not be burned for energy — so they’ll get stored as energy for later (fat cells). Moreover, what movement activity you do after dinner matters. Take a walk and keep active if at all possible after this meal (especially if this is your largest meal of the day).
  3. Choose dessert wisely: Try drinking herbal tea, coffee, a low-sugar liquid, smoothie, or plain yogurt and fruit (sweeten with stevia) instead.
  4. Eat your meals slowly: It takes 20 minutes for your brain to begin to register your level of satiety from food, so at all costs, don’t take a second portion or begin a dessert until the tally of fullness is completed (30 minutes).
  5. Move enough daily for your metabolic needs: If you gain weight easily, plan in 4 sessions of moderate to high exercise (I call it playtime) per week. It starts with making time for this. Then pick the activity you know keeps your heart rate over 130 beats per minute, sustained for more than 30 minutes. Running, bicycling, hiking, swimming, or stair climbing are the best in my experience. But remember that exercise works in tandem with smart food choices. I just met a man who lost 120 pound in 5 months. He told me emphatically that working out can never make up for proper food choices. And he’s absolutely right.

If you’ve taken a hard look at these two areas (food and activity), then consider subtler causes of weight gain: medications and xenobiotic

Medications and other saboteurs of your weight

Did you know that there are many medications that can and do cause weight gain? I’ll briefly list them here for you:

  1. Antidepressants: Antidepressants especially the SSRI family (Prozac, Zoloft, Zyprexa, Paxil) are medicines that increase fluid retention and cause edema. Their weight gain effect is reversible however. For example, Zyprexa made by Eli Lilly caused 20 pounds or more weight gain in 30% of users after the first year of use according to a study.
  2. Antihistamines: an example is cyproheptadine (Periactin) and similar drugs for allergy
  3. Bipolar medications: Lithium, a common bipolar disorder medication puts on weight
  4. Breast cancer chemotherapies: the mechanism of weight gain is not well understood
  5. Contraceptives: synthetic estrogen and progesterone found in oral contraceptives are a commonly found to be a cause for fluid retention and increased appetite.
  6. Corticosteroids: prednisone use longer than 3 months will usually cause irreversible weight gain. I have met several patients over the years who were very upset that they were never told of this well-known side effect — even 50 – 100 pounds within two years. It’s a great anti-inflammatory for a short course or with breaks between courses.
  7. Diabetes medications: Diabeta and Diabinese can sometimes cause weight gain
  8. Heartburn treatments: acid pump blockers Prevacid® and Nexium® can cause slight weight gain
  9. Migraine relievers / seizure control medications
  10. The anti-seizure medication depakote (valproic acid) is known to cause weight gain
  11. Anti-nausea medications: the phenothiazines are used to treat nausea or dizziness but can cause weight gain.
  12. Pain relievers: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen can cause weight gain.
  13. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): synthetic estrogens or progesterone can cause you to gain weight. Synthetic hormones are known to have a xenobiotic effect. Xenobiotics are biologically active foreign molecules that cause disease.


Xenobiotics are hormone-mimickers. Let me explain how these unnatural chemicals contribute to abnormal weight gain….

What we know about adipose tissue is that it is a reservoir for inflammatory chemicals. Chemicals such as pesticides, industrial compounds, cosmetic ingredients, medications and even synthetic hormone medictions become absorbed into your body and if they don’t get sufficiently detoxified and eliminated via your urine or stool, then they will be stored in your fat for years. 1 2 Then when they are released from adipose (fat) cells into your bloodstream they carry inflammation to the rest of your body.

One example is the visceral adipose tissue (belly fat) heart disease connection. Research has actually shown how environmental chemicals stored in your body fat contribute greatly to abnormal blood sugar, cognitive decline and even depressed mood.

And in my reading I have come to understand that any molecule that is unnatural to the human body is a candidate to disrupt normal cell-to-cell communication. This means also that the delicate communication of hormone molecules to their target tissue cells also become disrupted. Xenobiotics are thought to block the natural effect of your natural hormones or else trigger a false message (like a virus causing inflammation in your body).

As I see it you can do one or all of the following:

  1. Eliminate your ongoing exposure to xenobiotics (chemicals such as pesticides, industrial compounds, cosmetic and personal care product ingredients, and medications) from what you ingest or apply to your skin/hair
  2. Beef up your liver and kidney function. Another way is by using supplements known to activate your liver detoxification. Examples are methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), betaine hydrochloride, and D-glucarate. These three which boost glutathione synthesis: milk thistle (silymarin), n-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC), and R-lipoic acid.
  3. Do a bile system cleanse (see the protocol below) twice yearly and eat nutrient-rich, high fiber, mostly raw whole foods. Note that these foods are naturally high in phytochemicals, which consistently keep your metabolism running clean 3 and your bowels moving. You can also supplement with green superfood nutrient powders in smoothies and do a whole day of just fresh juicing every 3 months. Also, consider probiotics for intestinal health.

Liver and bile system cleanse protocol

Your liver drains out chemical wastes into the biliary tract. Bile is the fluid that carries it out and dumps into the small intestine to be carried out in your stool. The simplest half-day protocol for bile system cleansing is below. Ingredients include 2 cups of cold virgin olive oil; 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice; pineapple or V8 juice; a measuring cup or tablespoon-size measuring spoon; and a pitcher of water.

You can find detailed instructions for my liver and bile system cleanse in my post, Four easy cleanses flush toxins and fix digestion.

Next week, I want to address another hidden cause of abnormal weight gain: hormone imbalance.

To feeling good in health,

Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options

[1] Adeshina F, Todd EL. Organochlorine compounds in human adipose tissue from north Texas. J Toxicol Environ Health. 1990;29:147-156.
[2] Lim JS, Son HK, Park SK, Jacobs DR Jr, Lee DH. Inverse associations between long-term weight change and serum concentrations of persistent organic pollutants.  Int J Obes (London); 2010 Sep 7.
[3] Roundtree R. The Use of Phytochemicals in the Biotransformation and Elimination of Environmental Toxins. IN Medicines from the Earth 2003: Official Proceedings. Brevard, North Carolina: Gaia Herbal Research Institute; 2003:115-128.


Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.