Orlistat is a weight loss drug marketed as a prescription under the trade name Xenical as well as over-the-counter under the name Alli. In a box marked by any of these names you will find diet pills designed as an adjunct to a healthcare provider-supervised reduced-calorie diet and regular exercise. All versions contain the same active ingredients, but differ with regard to their strength. Apart from that, Orlistat is sometimes recommended for patients who had bariatric surgery to help them keep the lost weight off.
Active ingredients of Orlistat prevent the intestinal absorption of fat from the food you eat and in effect reduce the caloric intake of your every meal. Orlistat deactivates lipase, the enzyme responsible for fat digestion. It is also claimed to be particularly effective in reducing the so-called visceral fat, which is responsible for many dangerous illnesses (e.g. type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke).
The Alli version of the drug is typically taken with fat-containing meals, up to three times a day. It is estimated that, on average, Alli blocks about 25% of the fat you consume. The over-the-counter Alli Orlistat causes about 3 to 5 pounds of weight loss per year, while the prescription version (Xenical) – up to 7 pounds per year.
These numbers are modest, yet when combined with a proper diet and regular physical activity, they might get significantly higher.
Unfortunately, losing weight with Orlistat’s help is not always a pleasant experience. Given the fact that the unabsorbed fat is excreted with the stool, Orlistat is widely known for its gastrointestinal side effects, especially steatorrhea (oily, loose stools), flatulence, urgent bowel movements, gas with an oily anal discharge, abdominal pain and inability to control stool.
However, these symptoms tend to resolve within one to four weeks of treatment. As it is the undigested fat roaming through your system that causes most of these unpleasant side effects, Orlistat users are advised to eat meals containing no more than 30% fat. Despite the fact that FDA did not find any direct relation between Orlistat and a liver injury, any indication of such condition should be a sign to stop the treatment.
Another problem is that important vitamins like A, D, E and beta-carotene bind to unabsorbed fat and are eliminated in the stool as well. To prevent the vitamin deficiency, Orlistat users must take multivitamin supplements. For similar reasons, patients treated with warfarin or other blood-thinning medications should be cautious when using Orlistat, since it might decrease the level of vitamin K in their blood. Although the Orlistat’s impact on pregnancy and breast feeding is unknown, its usage in such cases is discouraged.
The producer of Orlistat claims that most weight loss occurs in the first six months of taking their product. However, many patients gain back the weight they’ve lost after stopping the treatment. Therefore it is very important not to rely on diet pills exclusively, but rather use them as an additional help in the broader process of changing the whole lifestyle.