ROCKVILLE, MD—Skip the trip to the doctor. Your overweight members have an easier way to obtain the diet pill, orlistat. On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved orlistat capsules as an over-the-counter (OTC) weight loss aid for overweight adults. Orlistat was initially approved in 1999 as a prescription drug to treat obesity and remains a prescription drug for obesity at a higher dose than the OTC version. OTC orlistat will be manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline under the name Alli and is indicated for use in adults ages 18 years and older along with a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet and exercise program.

The FDA approved OTC orlistat based on the review of the sponsor's safety data and after submitting the product for consideration by an FDA advisory committee in January 2006. The committee voted in favor of OTC approval.

"We know that being overweight has many adverse consequences, including an increase in the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes," says Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "OTC orlistat, along with diet and exercise, may aid overweight adults who seek to lose excess weight to improve their health."

OTC orlistat is not for people who have problems absorbing food or for those who are not overweight. Orlistat helps produce weight loss by decreasing the intestinal absorption of fat. The 60-mg capsule can be taken up to three times a day with each fat-containing meal. Because of the possible loss of certain nutrients, the FDA recommends that people using orlistat also take a multivitamin at bedtime.

The most common side effect of the product is a change in bowel habits, which may include loose stools. Eating a low-fat diet will reduce the likelihood of this side effect.

People who have had an organ transplant should not take OTC orlistat because of possible drug interactions. In addition, anyone taking blood thinning medicines or being treated for diabetes or thyroid disease should consult a physician before using orlistat.