Life and Health: Is Alli Truly an Ally for Obesity?

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With more than 64 percent of adults in the United States either overweight or obese, there are valid fears that Alli may be misused with disastrous consequences.

With more than 64 percent of adults in the United States either overweight or obese, it's no wonder that many people are looking to resolve health care issues with a genie in a bottle to help them lose weight. Amid growing concerns about the spreading problem of obesity, the promise of Alli, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved diet pill that is now available without a prescription, is giving hope to many, but also causing great concern that it will be misused with disastrous results and health care issues.

According to NAASO, The Obesity Society, the results from the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), this figure represents a 14 percent increase in the obesity prevalence rate from NHANES III (1988-94) and a 36 percent increase from NHANES II (1976 -80).

In an in depth life and health article by Alice Abler at Vision, you will learn that Alli is not a new drug, but the brand name of orlistat (tetrahydrolipstatin), which has been marketed by Roche as Xenical. As of June 15, drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is now branding orlistat as Alli, which is essentially a half-dose (60 mg) version of Xenical.

Roche claims that "Xenical is the number one prescription weight loss medication, approved for use in adults in over 50 countries worldwide." Orlistat disables lipase, an enzyme found in the digestive tract, preventing it from breaking down dietary fat that is normally used or stored for energy in this smaller form. Instead, some of the fat continues undigested through the intestines and is then eliminated.

Not everyone is so positive about orlistat, including the consumer group known as Public Citizen. In April of 2006 they petitioned the FDA, citing studies that indicate a link between Xenical and the development of precancerous colon lesions in rats. Despite this, the makers claim it is the most extensively studied weight-loss drug on the market and is safe when used as directed.

The Alli website provides a list of warnings for people with certain health issues (diabetes, thyroid disease, kidney stones, gallbladder problems, pancreatitis, organ transplants or trouble absorbing food), and advise against taking the drug while on blood-thinning medication or cyclosporine. A video on the website describes the possibility of gastrointestinal surprises as part of the "treatment effects" which "may include gas with oily discharge, an increased number of bowel movements, an urgent need to have them, and an inability to control them."

This drug does not discriminate between good fats and bad fats, and bodies need the good fats. Furthermore consumers don't always follow directions, so there are valid fears that Alli may be misused with disastrous consequences.

When it comes to health care issues, perhaps it would make more sense if consumers would just be willing to eat lower-fat meals in smaller portions and to exercise more, which would be a simpler and cheaper way to lose weight than to take the pills.

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Edwin Stepp
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