Since many thyroid patients struggle with weight problems, I thought it would be helpful to take a brief look at this new drug. I also consulted with endocrinologist Dr. Ted Friedman to find out whether the drug is safe for thyroid patients. Find out more now.
Typically, a dosage of orlistat is taken with each meal, with care given to control the amount of fat in the meal. The drug works by reducing the amount of fat absorbed by the body.
Orlistat has been available in prescription form in the U.S. since 1999. Unlike stimulant diet drugs, it’s considered generally safe, though it can have unpleasant side effects, including gas, bloating, an oily discharge, loose stools or bowel urgency, diarrhea, stomach pain, and nausea, among others. There are also certain interactions with orlistat, meaning that even though it is now available without prescription, you should always discuss taking it with your practitioner.
According to information released by the University of Kentucky, a study done during the fall of 2006 by Dr. James Anderson, head of the UK College of Medicine Metabolic Research Group, looked at the effects of 60 mg orlistat (this is the dosage of the over-the-counter Alli brand product that is going on the market) in people who were mildly to moderately overweight. The 16 week study compared taking either 60 mg of orlistat, vs. placebo, daily with meals, three times a day. According to Anderson:
"Our research showed that people taking orlistat and following low-fat diets lost almost five percent of their initial body weight, about seven to15 pounds, over four months," Anderson said. "While two to four pounds a month isn't dramatic, steady weight loss of this amount can have major health benefits. For example, the reduction in LDL-cholesterol, the bad-guy cholesterol, of 10 percent can reduce risk of heart attack by 20 percent." Thyroid patients will note that the warnings on orlistat say that you should “Ask a doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking medicine for diabetes or thyroid disease. Your medication dose may need to be adjusted.”Dr. Friedman on Orlistat for Thyroid Patients
I asked nationally known endocrinologist Dr. Ted Friedman, who is a board-certified endocrinologist, and Chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Molecular Medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine, about orlistat. According to Dr. Friedman, orlistat has the potential to interfere with fat-soluble vitamins and medications, but water-soluble medications like levothyroxine and antithyroid drugs are not likely to be affected.
For Dr. Friedman, does orlistat have any value as part of an overall weight loss plan?
Said Dr. Friedman: “It works somewhat like Antabuse (a drug given to people to make them averse to alcohol). When people on orlistat eat fatty foods, they get abdominal pain, gas and bloating. Then they don’t want to eat more fatty foods. It’s sort of a negative conditioning.”
Note from Mary
If you decide to take orlistat, be sure that you consult your physician first, and make sure that you don’t have any other conditions, or aren’t taking any other medications, that would be affected by orlistat. Also, you probably will want to have your thyroid levels re-evaluated 8-12 weeks after you start, just to be sure that it’s not affecting your absorption of your medication.
If you and your doctor do decide you’re going to try orlistat, be sure to familiarize yourself with the drug and how it’s taken, the potential side effects, etc. Alli’s website has a fairly detailed Common Questions page.
More Alli/Orlistat Resources
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