Weight Loss Drugs : Prescription Weight Loss Drug Orlistat going OTC?

In January 2006, a federal advisory panel recommended that the FDA make the weight-loss medication orlistat (Xenical) available without a prescription. Although the FDA usually takes the panel's advice, orlistat's approval is uncertain. Many question the drug's effectiveness in the broader population ; others worry about its side effects, reports the April issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.

A new weight-loss solution would be welcome; two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese and at risk for major health problems and early death. But the reasons for weight problems are complex. No pill can melt away fat or keep the pounds off. Yet for people whose health is at risk, drug therapy may increase the odds of success.

Even though weight-loss drugs have a role to play in medical treatment, their long-term safety is unknown, says Harvard Women's Health Watch. And like all medications, they can pose problems. Orlistat, which inhibits the body's ability to take in fats, can also interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins.

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