Alli diet pills are available over-the-counter as a weight-loss aid. The active ingredient is orlistat, and Ali delivers half the milligrams you’d get in the prescription version of the drug, called Xenical.
As opposed to plant-based supplements for facilitating weight loss, Alli is a pharmaceutical drug designed to help with the long-term management of obesity, and is usually used in combination with a low-calorie, low-fat diet.
Xenical is available by prescription only, and contains 120 mg or Orlistat, where Alli contains 60 mg.
Orlistat has been a contender on the diet aid scene since it was approved by the FDA in 1999. (1) The drug limits the amount of fat absorbed from dietary fat, decreasing caloric intake and theoretically leading to weight loss
Since 85% of people fail to lose weight through traditional methods (2), it’s no surprise there’s a demand for drugs like Alli.
Let’s take a look at how Alli performs as a weight loss aid, along with what risks and side effects you might experience if you decide to try it.
Orlistat is an Enzyme Blocker
Alli prevents the digestive system from absorbing dietary fat by blocking an enzyme in the gut known as lipase.
When we eat fats, they have to be broken down into free fatty acids before they can be picked up by the bloodstream and utilized in the body.
Lipase is necessary for this process, and when it is inhibited by orlistat, the body can only absorb about 70% of the fat ingested, dramatically cutting the amount of fat calories metabolized from food. (3)
Excess fat simply passes through the digestive process and is expelled through the bowel, potentially leading to weight loss.
A Swedish study of the long-term effects of orlistat spanned 4 years, and tracked weight loss of two groups: one group was given a placebo, and the other group took the larger dose of orlistat at 120 mg three times a day. (4)
All of the 3305 participants were encouraged to take daily walks and advised to cut 800 calories from their current diet. Consumption of dietary fat was not to exceed 30% of caloric intake.
Over the course of the first year, subjects taking orlistat lost an average of nearly 24 pounds, while those taking the placebo dropped a little over 13 pounds.
At nearly twice the rate of loss for Alli users, the results look encouraging.
Long-term regain figures showed that by the end of the 4-year period, the average weight kept off was also higher in the orlistat group at nearly 13 pounds.
Subjects in the placebo group managed to keep off 6.7 pounds.
A review of several studies indicates orlistat can result in an average of 7 pounds more weight loss than when the drug isn’t used.
Since this only amounts to about 3% of starting weight for subjects involved in studies, it’s not that impressive. And most participants regained the lost weight gradually after the initial year-long treatment period.
For contrast, another study compared the outcome of subjects who followed a low-carb diet without drug intervention with the results realized by those using orlistat. The low-carb diet was equally effective as the low-fat diet with orlistat for weight loss. (5)
Other Health Benefits Associated with Alli
While some of the potential benefits listed below may be primarily due to weight reduction, the use of Alli diet pills has been linked with several positive outcomes.
- Patients taking Alli experience a drop in total cholesterol levels, as well as lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) measurements. (6)
- An analysis of multiple studies with patients who took Alli showed a mild reduction in blood pressure. (7)
- Participants in the 4-year Swedish study of subjects using orlistat dropped their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by a whopping 37% (4)
Positive changes in these health markers may result in a lower incidence of heart disease. (8)
Dosage and Side Effects
Most medications have side effects, and Alli diet pills are no exception.
The enzyme-blocker that inhibits lipase alters the digestive process, allowing dietary fat to move through the system without being absorbed.
Here are some of the side effects that have been well-documented by those who have taken Alli: (9)
- Abdominal pain
- Loose stools with an oily texture
- Fecal incontinence
Since the digestive system is blocked from absorbing a significant portion of fat, nutrients that are fat-soluble may not be fully utilized by the body.
This creates the potential for a shortage of vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are all fat-soluble nutrients. Patients are usually advised to take a multi-vitamin supplement when using Alli.
Timing can be important to make certain your body isn’t prevented from absorbing the nutrients. Take vitamins at least two hours before or two hours after you’ve taken Alli. (10)
The absorption of other medications may also be negatively impacted by Alli; to be safe, try to leave a 3 to 4-hour window between taking this drug and taking other prescription medications.
It’s vital to talk with your doctor about strategies for making certain medications don’t have dangerous interactions if you’re considering using Alli.
Dosage amounts used in the studies mentioned above were 120 mg orlistat taken 3 times daily.
Alli is available online and over-the-counter at drug stores at the lower dosage of 60 mg, but you need a prescription to obtain the pharmaceutical strength drug called Xenitol.
General safety recommendations include limiting the use of Alli for 2 years maximum.
Is Alli Right For You?
If you need to lose a considerable amount of weight, Alli is one of the few weight-loss drugs out there that could be helpful.
The results may not be as dramatic as what you would hope for, and outcomes achieved by test participants were based on following a low-fat diet plan and getting regular exercise.
Many people are not able to stick with a low-fat diet for any length of time. (13)
Incorporating dietary changes such as cutting back on carbohydrates and increasing protein intake could be just as effective without the drugs, especially when combined with a regular exercise program; this approach may also help prevent you from regaining lost weight over the long term.
Summary: Despite the potential for unpleasant digestive side effects, Alli is proven as a moderately effective drug that can help with weight loss.