Alli was all the rage when it was launched by GlaxoSmithKline in 2007. It is the first weight loss drug (not just a supplement) that was approved for over-the-counter sales by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

What Is Alli?

Alli is the reduced-strength version of Xenical, a fat blocker that decreases the body’s ability to absorb fats. The active ingredient in both drugs is orlistat. The presence of orlistat in Alli is much reduced and therefore Alli was approved as an over-the-counter weight loss aid. Unlike its stronger pharmacological cousin, Xenical, Alli may be taken without a doctor’s prescription.

How Alli Busts Excess Weight

When taken, Alli inhibits the enzymes in your digestive system from absorbing the fat content in your food intake. The unabsorbed fat goes out of the body unprocessed so that the body does not store excess calories from these fats. Since less fat is absorbed, weight loss occurs. Alli works only on fats and does not inhibit the absorption of excess carbohydrates or proteins.

What’s In A Pill?

Alli’s active ingredient is orlistat. In clinical trials, orlistat proved to promote weight loss, although results were modest. Those under a diet-exercise-orlistat regimen lost 4-6 pounds more than those who relied on diet and exercise alone. It is also interesting to note that orlistat’s fat blocking action had promoted secondary benefits such as improvement in blood pressure issues and reduction of incidences of type II diabetes by as much as 40% in obese patients. Alli, being an OTC drug, is milder than Xenical because it has lesser orlistat content. Xenical contains 120 mg. of orlistat while Alli is comprised of only half the dosage which is 60 mg.

The Side Effects

Alli’s fat blocking mechanism unfortunately necessitates some embarrassing and uncomfortable side effects. Because fat is unabsorbed and must be eliminated unprocessed, it comes out in the following ways:
  • Anal discharge – uncontrolled seepage of an oily substance (fat) or fecal matter
  • Orange-colored stools
  • Loose stools or bowel movements
  • Flatulence – fecal matter may accompany a gassy discharge
  • Frequent bowel movements
The only way to minimize these side effects is to eat less fat or none at all. The silver lining in this messy affair is that the drug trains the dieter to seek low-fat food as the alternative forces one to put up with these gross consequences. The above reactions are normal functions of a digestive system exposed to orlistat or Alli. There are, however, other adverse reactions that have only recently come to light. Between 1999 and 2008, there have been 32 reported cases of liver damage in patients under orlistat. Although there have not been concrete evidence linking orlistat to these cases, the FDA is currently investigating the allegations.

The Bottom Line

Alli remains to be generally a safe OTC diet drug, albeit an inconvenient one, as the side effects do not sit well with many. Of course, as with all weight loss aids worth their salt, Alli must be accompanied by a reduced calorie diet and exercise plan in order to maximize its weight loss potential.

Weight Comment’s Rating: 4 / 5

Alli is worth the consideration; that is, if you don’t mind the idea of carrying around an extra pairs of underwear and pants.

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