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Diet Drugs

Posted 02/26/2007

Hoffmann-La Roche, a pharmaceutical industry giant, enjoyed a tasty chunk of good news this month. Their friends at the ever-cooperative FDA have allowed them to bring a milder version of their prescription fat-blocking drug, Xenical, to the over-the-counter market this summer. The new OTC drug is called alli.

The particular chemical people will be swallowing in alli is orlistat, which causes the body to absorb fewer calories. This is because the “blocked” molecules of fat now travel through your intestines, and the next day, you can flush the little villains down your toilet.

There were naysayers (I among them) who questioned whether taking Xenical was the best approach to weight loss. The drug blocks only about a third of your fat intake, and you could do a lot better yourself on a whole foods, low-fat, restricted portion program and avoid the side effects.

Did I mention side effects?

The commonest by far is an uncomfortable bloating, with some people reporting mild nausea, apparently from all that unabsorbed fat. The consistency of your bowel movement changes, usually something loose, greasy, and foul smelling. Then, there’s the infamous “fecal leakage,” the only proper way to describe an unexpected poop-in-your-pants accident.

Imagine yourself at the health club, in your new workout gear. You feel kind of queasy from the Xenical and regret challenging its effectiveness with that pepperoni pizza last night. The aerobic class starts, and after a dozen hops, disaster happens. You grab your towel to cover your rapidly staining behind and race out the door.

An event like this could happen anywhere. You could also be in the window seat of a transatlantic flight. Or in the second row center at “Wicked.”

Another real concern are vitamin deficiencies. Four vitamins require fat in order for your body to absorb them: A, D, E, and K. You’ve already read here that there’s a national epidemic of low vitamin D and that low levels of D have been linked to increased risks of breast and colon cancer. It’s years too early to make a pronouncement about long-term use of fat-blocking drugs, low vitamin D, and cancer, but why add something new to your list of health concerns?

During TV commercials for alli, the bloat, nausea, “leakage,” and vitamin deficiencies will whiz by, read by a voiceover at the speed of a cattle auctioneer.

One alternative to pill-popping for weight loss is the food plan I present in The Triple Whammy Cure. It eliminates calorie-rich, nutrition-poor junk and processed foods from your diet and replaces them with whole-food–real food–alternatives. Combining the food plan with a 20-minute daily brisk walk is a fine way to start maintaining your weight, and losing weight too.

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