At first, orlistat (often called Alli) may have seemed like the cream of the crop for weight loss medications – accessible, affordable, and providing results to thousands. However, recent research suggests that individuals taking orlistat, one of the best-selling medications for weight loss – also known as Zenical or Alli – may be at serious risk for damage to the kidney or liver.
Experts in a National Institutes of Health study believe even low levels of the drug – officially known as orlistat – may cause organ damage and may also negatively impact the ways cancer treatment drugs function. The findings are especially important given the rise in use of Alli during the past ten years for patients seeking help with obesity.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been made aware of the research, published by Bingfang Yan of the University of Rhode Island. Patients taking orlistat have been reported to experience failure of the pancreas or liver, as well as kidney failure. The problem is believed to be linked to the way the drug is absorbed by the body, thus exposing various organs to it – contrary to prior belief that it may not be absorbed by the body. The drug is also believed to affect the way key enzymes work in the body, which may prevent cancer drugs from functioning properly.
Alli is available over-the-counter to people who are older than 18, although previously the drug was administered by prescription. Like other weight loss medications, individuals are encouraged to use the medication as only one part of a weight loss program that includes healthy lifestyle changes, exercise and even professional counseling to determine the underlying factors related to chronic overeating. Side effects of orlistat include yellowing of skin or eye color, itching, appetite problems and discolored urine.