The FDA is close to approving an over-the-counter fat-blocking pill and once again you're only hearing part of the story. Orlistat, also known under the brand names Alli and Xenical, blocks the absorption of dietary fats in your intestines. If you
don't digest them, they don't "count" and you can lose weight.
A group of obese people who tested Xenical, the prescription version of the drug, lost five to six more pounds than the control group over six months. They gained back their weight when they stopped taking the fat-blocker. Manufacturer Glaxo now wants FDA approval for its over-the-counter version, called Alli.
Alli and Xenical work by blocking about one-fourth of the fat in any meal in the intestines. But where does this fat go? Since your intestines can't absorb it, your body has to eliminate it as solid waste. The side effects can be unpleasant. They include increased bowel movements, oily stools, an inability to control bowel movements, gas, pain, and spotting. All so you can lose one extra pound a month.
A few years ago, food companies made potato chips with a fat substitute called Olestra. This product was based on the same principle – it isn't absorbed through the intestines. Some people experienced diarrhea and anal leakage after eating just 10 chips!
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Then there's the matter of nutrient absorption. If you're taking a multivitamin when you eat, you'll need to change your habits. Orlistat blocks vitamins A, D, E, and essential oils, such as flax seed and fish oils, as well. So you need to take your multi two hours before or after your fat-blocker.
There also are negative interactions with some medications, such as the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin). So talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking a fat blocker.
Alli will have half the dose of the prescription drug Xenical. It will set you back $12-25 a week. For $50-100 a month, you can have runny stools and lose a pound. Maybe even two. What are the people at GlaxoSmithKline thinking? Obviously, dollars.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Medline Plus, January 2006.
Bridges, A. "Fat-blocking pill wins federal endorsement," Associated Press, January 24, 2006.