Over-the-Counter Weight Loss Pill OK'd
FDA Approves Orlistat, Called "Alli," for Overweight Adults
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 7, 2007 -- The FDA approved orlistat capsules -- called "alli"
-- as an over-the-counter
weight loss aid for overweight adults.
That makes alli the first FDA-approved over-the-counter weight loss pill.
Orlistat is also sold in higher doses by prescription under the brand name
Xenical (made by Roche Laboratories).
GlaxoSmithKline, which makes alli, says the pill will be available in U.S.
stores by this summer.
Roche and GlaxoSmithKline are WebMD sponsors.
Alli doesn't excuse overweight people from cutting calories and working
"This drug is only going to be effective if it's used in conjunction
with a weight loss program -- and what that means is a reduced-fat diet,
decreased calories, and an exercise program," said the FDA's Charles
Ganley, MD, in a news conference.
"If someone just chooses to use orlistat alone -- without undertaking a
weight loss program -- then this drug is not going to be very effective,"
says Ganley, who directs the FDA's Office of Nonprescription Products.
How Much Weight Loss?
"The labeling does state that for every 5 pounds you lose from diet
alone, orlistat can help you lose 2-3 pounds more," Ganley says.
"In studies, most people lost 5-10 pounds over six months," he
"These studies were done in conjunction with a weight-loss program,"
People with a BMI (body mass index) of at least 27 may be the most likely to
benefit from alli, Ganley notes.
"If you're markedly overweight -- where your BMI is over 30, for example
-- you're likely to have more of a benefit than if it's a lower BMI,"
The FDA doesn't recommend alli for people younger than 18, but it's not
requiring buyers to show ID -- or otherwise restricting sales.
"We don't advocate that adolescents less than 18 use the product,"
He says the FDA doesn't have "major safety concerns" about alli's
use by younger adolescents.
"Our primary issue ... was that if adolescents have problems with
weight, they should be followed by a health care provider," Ganley
"Although we understand that in some instances there may be adolescents
that choose to use the product, that's not our intent. We certainly don't
encourage it," Ganley says.
How Orlistat Works
Orlistat helps people lose weight by decreasing the amount of fat their
The 60-milligram capsule can be taken up to three times per day and should
be taken with meals that include fat.
People taking orlistat may not fully absorb certain fat-soluble nutrients
from food, so they should take a multivitamin at bedtime, says the FDA.
Over-the-counter orlistat is not for people who have problems absorbing food
or for those who are not overweight, states an FDA news release.
The labeling for alli notes the same side effects as prescription
The product's most common side effect is a change in bowel habits, which may
include loose stools. Eating a low-fat diet makes that side effect less likely,
according to the FDA.
People who have had an organ transplant should not take over-the-counter
orlistat because of possible drug interactions.
In addition, anyone taking blood-thinning medicines or being treated for
or thyroid disease should consult a physician before using orlistat, the FDA
The FDA approved over-the-counter orlistat after reviewing GlaxoSmithKline's
safety data and after submitting the product for consideration by an FDA
advisory committee in January 2006. The committee voted in favor of