New fight to yank weight-loss drug from shelves

The company logo of GlaxoSmithKline is seen on the headquarters building in a London file photo from May 10, 2006. ( AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

April 14, 2011 2:17:55 PM PDT
Should a popular weight-loss drug be banned by the federal government? It's supposed to block the fat, but there are new concerns about what it could do to major body organs.

For the second time in five years, public health advocates are asking the government to yank Alli and Xenical. According to new reports, the weight loss drugs could damage your kidney and pancreas.

The drug in those products is orlistat. It stops the body from absorbing some fat, but it has some unpleasant side effects, including one that warn users to wear dark colored pants in case of an accident.

Locally, ABC7 found folks working on weight loss without drugs. The big secret to weight loss: There's no magic pill, according to Rush University Prevention Center's registered dietician Jennifer Ventrelle.

"If we had a magic pill or magic diet or something that was going to make it extremely easy to get healthier, we wouldn't have an obesity epidemic," said Ventrelle.

Ventrelle overseas a wellness program called ELM at Rush University Medical Center. ELM stands for Eat Well, Love Better and Move More.

Ventrelle does not recommend orlistat for her patients.

"It cuts the amount of fat that your body actually absorbs," said Ventrelle. "If it's inhibiting the absorption, that's got to come out somewhere and that's where some of the GI side effects come in: the gassiness, the loose stools, the bowel disruption and that's why it can be so undesirable."

In Washington, D.C. Thursday, public health advocates filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration to ban orlistat. The drug is commonly sold under the name Xenical and Alli. The drug is marketed for weight loss, but the advocates say the drug is linked to kidney stones and pancreatic damage.

Back at Rush, Zaida Llera says she tried other weight loss drugs but they didn't work for her.

"I always wanted a quick fix," Llera said. "It might have worked for a little while but then weight came back on."

Llera said, what has worked is learning about healthier eating choices, understanding her emotional eating and making sustainable lifestyle changes. In eight months with the ELM program she has lost 24 pounds.

"This way, the weight has come off slowly and I'm guaranteeing it's going to stay off," said Llera. "I love clothes are fitting better, and my personality has really come out as far as just really enjoying waking up in the morning."

GlaxoSmithKline makes Alli and said in a statement, the drug is "the most studied weight loss medicine. Its safety has been established through 100 clinical studies involving more than 30,000 patients."

Roche makes Xenical. It had not reviewed the petition and did not comment.

A response from the FDA could take a year. But, last year, the FDA added warnings about liver damage to the drugs.