There was a ton of hype with the launch of Alli a couple of years ago, and like almost all diet products, it comes with its share of controversy. It takes some reading between the lines to see what the product is really about. According to the manufacturer, Alli is an OTC version of Xenical, a prescription fat blocker. While fat blocking sounds attractive, the truth about how and why it works is deliberately left ambiguous by advertisers.
Everybody’s looking for a fast fix, some magic bullet that will simplify the difficult task of weight loss. So when a product hits the market with claims of blocking the fat from absorption, consumers get excited.
Are the benefits real?
Critics of Alli point out that the program includes detailed instructions on eating right and exercising, which, if implemented without taking any drugs, would result in comparable weight loss. So where’s the magic bullet? The value, reading between the lines, seems to be in aversion therapy. Customers report that eating foods that contain fat result in unpleasant events ranging from oily discharge to extreme cramping and other gastric distress. Customers are forced to make low-fat choices or suffer the humiliating or painful consequences.
Does it work?
For some people, it does work to some degree. Many savvy dieters have already modified their diets. Alli is unlikely to help them. People eating high fat diets may benefit by learning to avoid foods high in fat, but the consequences may not be worth the results. Alli users do report lower cholesterol and a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes.
The manufacturer claims that it blocks 25% of 45 grams of total fat you are allowed daily on the Alli diet. This amounts to a little better than 100 calories blocked, roughly equivalent to a container of low-fat yogurt or two slices of bread.
Low Fat Dieting
Another thing to consider is that not all fat is bad. A healthy diet should include unsaturated fats. It’s a distinction that Alli – and the average consumer – can’t make.
The benefits of Alli are nebulous at best, and the side effects can range from mild to horrendous. My advice to a hopeful dieter would be fairly straightforward. Adopt the diet, start an exercise program, and save yourself the considerable expense and potential embarrassment of the product. But I understand that not everyone will agree with me, particularly when it might come to discouraging customers from taking a drug that could become a recurring purchase.
What do you think? How far does the pharmacist’s responsibility to the consumer go for OTC products? If they ask, are you obligated to have the right answers?