December 1, 2023

Some chronic illnesses, surgery, and trauma to the body can lead to unexpected weight loss. If you don’t see your desired weight gain with food and exercise alone, weight gain medicines and supplements could help.

Weight gain pills—like some steroid-, cannabis-, and hormone-based prescriptions or supplements—may promote weight gain. Here’s what you need to know.

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Several medications may help you gain weight. Prescription medications are usually more effective than over-the-counter (OTC) supplements. 

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 with difficulty swallowing capsules. Side effects may include:

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

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

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 levels. 

Studies have shown that megestrol effectively promotes 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:

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

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:

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

Providers typically recommend oxandrolone for short-term use—up to four weeks—and 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. This common blood disorder occurs when the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells to promote oxygen. This medication can:

  • Improve bone density
  • Increase red blood cell production
  • Stimulate muscle growth

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 U.S., the brand Anadrol has been discontinued. However, oxymetholone is still available in generic form or by the brand Anapolon.

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

Weight gain supplements are commonly available over the counter at drugstores. They typically come in pills or powders and claim to boost appetite, metabolism, muscle mass, and athletic performance. However, you should use supplements with caution due to a lack of regulation by the FDA and scientific support for their use.

Lack of FDA Regulation

The FDA doesn’t regulate OTC supplements for safety, effectiveness, and quality like prescription medications. Supplements can contain potentially dangerous ingredients that aren’t listed on the label. They may also interact with other medicines you’re taking, potentially resulting in serious or life-threatening reactions.

Lack of Scientific Evidence

Little evidence exists about the effectiveness of weight gain supplements. It’s unlikely that these supplements alone would help you gain weight without a proper nutrition plan and fitness routine.

If you wish to use OTC drugs, speak to a healthcare provider to determine whether these supplements are safe. 

If a healthcare provider suggests that weight gain could benefit you, they may help you create a treatment plan focused on nutrition and strength-building exercises. Under the guidance of a healthcare provider, most people can safely increase their weight without weight gain pills by using the following methods. 

Make Dietary Changes

Eating more calories than your body burns is an effective way to increase weight. To do so in a healthy way:

  • Eat smaller meals or more frequently—five to six times per day, for example.
  • Eat more nutrient-rich foods like grains, nuts, and avocados.
  • Limit empty-calorie foods like chips or cookies.
  • Snack on high-protein, healthy-carb, and healthy-fat foods, including crackers and hummus, nuts, or trail mix.

Consider working with a registered dietician to develop a personalized healthy weight gain nutrition plan that works best for you and your body.

Switch Up Your Workouts

If your current fitness routine primarily consists of lots of cardio, like running or biking, you might try making some changes.

Lifting weights and increasing protein intake can increase lean muscle mass over time. Because muscles are denser than fat, becoming stronger can help you gain weight healthily.

You may consider visiting a community gym for personal training or fitness class options to help guide you through this process.

Healthcare providers may recommend a fitness routine or nutrition plan to help you gain weight.  If these options do not work, speak to a healthcare provider about OTC supplements or prescription weight gain pills.

Research shows that prescribed medications are more effective and safer than OTC supplements. Working with a healthcare provider to find the best treatment plan for your health without compromising your safety is important. 


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