Side Effects From "Miracle" Diet Pill Gives Consumers a "Run" for Their Money

May 13, 1999

The latest products from drug companies are often sent to physicians as promotional 'freebies' to encourage prescriptions for their patients and cheap, word-of-mouth sales. Health Central's Dr. Dean writes in his column about the latest promotional literature he received for the diet drug Xenical.

Xenical is the first-ever diet drug that works in the gut instead of targeting the brain to suppress appetite. So scientists expect that, gastrointestinal discomfort aside, it should be a safe drug - unlike two popular appetite suppressants that had to be banned in 1997.

Xenical, known chemically as orlistat, blocks intestinal enzymes. So instead of being stored on people's hips, thighs or buttocks, 30 percent of the fat they eat passes straight to the colon for excretion. This is not as easy-on-the-stomach and "clean" as it may sound.

Dr. Dean writes: Whatís interesting is the required warnings pamphlet was in tiny letters, which I took the time to thoroughly read. This is what pharmacists and physicians look at to see what the dangers of a drug might be. In the case of Xenical, there are these side effects, as described by the manufacturer:

  • Oily spotting by 26.6 percent of users
  • Flatus with discharge, 23.9 percent
  • Fecal urgency, 22.1 percent
  • Fatty/oily stool, 20 percent
  • Oily evacuation, 11.9 percent
  • Increased defecation, 10.8 percent
  • Fecal incontinence, 7.7 percent

The more fat eaten, the more side effects - thus, the FDA recommended that Xenical users get no more than 30 percent of their daily calories from fat, something they can calculate by reading food labels. Xenical also decreases absorption of the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, so users should take supplements two hours before or after swallowing Xenical.

After reading these side effects, would you walk into a cocktail party and tell people you were taking daily doses of Xenical? As Iíve said before, Xenical is supposed to block the absorption of fat - but it has to go somewhere and oily spotting is one result.

People will take the drug and think they can eat as much fat as they want, now that they can't absorb as much of it. And it won't take too many steak and egg breakfasts before they will actually gain weight with the new "miracle weight reduction pill."

Remember fen-phen?

Xenical was long-awaited by obesity experts, who say they need new alternatives after the ill-fated Redux and the fenfluramine half of "fen-phen" were banned in 1997 for causing heart damage. Those drugs had been wildly popular; many people even bought them on the Internet without ever seeing a doctor, something specialists say is dangerous.

Only two other prescription weight-loss drugs are sold in the U.S. Doctors expect many dieters will begin taking Xenical together with those appetite suppressants in hopes of greater weight loss. But the FDA warned that no one has studied the safety of mixing those drugs, and Roche said it has no plans to do so.

Be forewarned!

The FDA delayed Xenical's approval by almost two years because of a perplexing concern: In studies of over 1,000 patients, 12 Xenical users came down with breast cancer, vs. just 2 women given a dummy pill.

Consumers have to be very wary of too-good sounding weight-loss promises. Studies from this product actually show very little weight loss over a year and thatís when the pill is used along with a low-fat diet and nutritional counselling.

Please consider the dangers and side effects of any fad diet pill before assuming that the "latest" thing means automatically, the "safest" thing.

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Last updated January 4, 2000 by someone who's FED-UP!