Weight Loss Drug Alli May Reduce Visceral Fat in Obese People

Losing weight is a challenge for many people, and when they fail to see the pounds drop through diet and exercise, some turn to diet pills. One over-the-counter weight loss medication that’s a lower strength version of a prescription weight loss pill is Alli, the non-prescription form of orlistat. Doctors still prescribe orlistat for weight loss, but that could be about to change. Some are concerned that using Alli or orlistat for weight loss could be dangerous.

Alli and Orlistat Health Risks

A consumer advocacy group called Public Citizen believes that orlistat and Alli should be banned. Orlistat is prescribed under the brand name of Xenical by doctors as a prescription weight loss pill.

Public Citizen used the internet to search for reports of adverse health problems from using this weight loss medication. They discovered 47 cases of pancreatitis, a condition that can be fatal, and 73 cases of kidney stones related to Alli and orlistat use. They found these reports through MedWatch, a service that allows health practitioners and patients to report adverse reactions to medications.

The FDA has already received reports of users on orlistat or Alli who developed liver problems thought to be related to these weight loss drugs. Several of the cases were severe enough to require liver transplant – and one person died.

Public Citizen points out that taking Alli or orlistat for weight loss isn’t very effective, and when you consider the benefit to risk ratio, the medications should clearly be removed from the market. According to the Cochrane database, users lost on average 4 to 6.5 pounds more than people not taking one of these medications over a year’s time. Alli and orlistat work by blocking enzymes that break down fat–so fat is not absorbed by the intestines and is excreted in the stool.

Other Alli and Orlistat Side-Effects

Alli and orlistat are difficult medications for most people to tolerate. A significant number of people on them experience side-effects such as abdominal bloating, flatulence, cramping, diarrhea and stool leakage. Not surprisingly, these symptoms often motivate people to stop taking them. The side-effects can be minimized by avoiding eating fatty foods.

Is Alli or Orlistat for Weight Loss Safe?

These reports raise concerns about the safety of these weight loss medications. Historically, the majority of weight loss medications and diet pills have proven to be damaging in one way or another–or simply ineffective. Most notably, the weight loss combination popular years ago was linked with valvular heart problems and removed from the market years ago. Could Alli and orlistat follow suit? More research is needed to substantiate these reports, but it doesn’t look promising for Alli and orlistat. The safest way to lose weight is still a combination of a healthy diet and exercise.


Medical News Today. “Ban Weight Loss Drug Tied to Kidney, Liver Damage Says Consumer Group”

Prescriber’s Letter. 2009.

FDA website.

Cochrane Database Syst Rev (3): CD004094.