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How Does Orlistat Help People Lose Weight?

How Does Orlistat Help People Lose Weight?

Orlistat is a weight loss medication sold by prescription and over the counter. Both forms of the drug can assist with weight loss, but it is not a miracle solution.

Those taking orlistat must learn how to properly take the medication. In addition, they must make other healthy lifestyle and diet changes to see results.

It can help a person to get the most from it if they understand the answer to the question, "how does Orlistat work?"

The Science Behind Orlistat

WebMD explains that orlistat is a lipase inhibitor. So, how does orlistat work? It works in the intestines to prevent them from absorbing the fat you consume as part of your diet.

It cannot prevent the intestines from absorbing all of the fat you eat, though. Orlistat can only block a percentage, which depends on the strength of the medication you take.

If you take over-the-counter orlistat, it will block about 1/4 of the fat you consume. The dosage for the OTC medication is 60 milligrams, according to the Mayo Clinic. Using the 120-milligram prescription version of the drug, you can expect a block of 1/3 of the fat you ingest.

Your body will not be able to store or use the fat that the medication blocks, but it must get rid of it somehow. That causes some side effects of which you need to be aware.

You Should Work to Minimize Side Effects

When your body does not absorb fat, it must leave your body through your bowel movements. This leads to some gastrointestinal effects that are not very pleasant. Common side effects of using this medication include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Loose stools
  • Anal discharge
  • Gas
  • Uncontrollable bowel movements

These issues are more prominent when a person starts to take the medication as the body adjusts. However, you have the ability to minimize them or possibly eliminate them.

How bad your side effects are and whether you suffer with them at all depends a lot on your diet. You have to make dietary changes, reducing the fat in your diet to no more than 30%.

Think about the answer to "how does orlistat work," and it makes sense. If you continue to eat a lot of fat, you will see a spike in side effects, and they will become more severe. Your body simply cannot handle a lot of fat while you take orlistat. It must get rid of the fat somehow since it cannot absorb it.

You are largely in control here. Orlistat does its job inside your body, so you need to do your part by changing your eating habits. This is not a miracle drug that allows you to eat whatever you want and still lose weight.

A Few Notes

Now that you have the answer to "how does Orlistat work," you may be ready to start using it. However, there are a few more things you need to know about this weight loss medication beforehand.

Do Not Eliminate All Fat

Once you begin taking orlistat, you may be a little afraid to eat any fat, especially if you have side effects. However, it is not a good idea to completely wipe fat out of your diet. Your body needs some fat to be healthy and for your body systems to work properly.

If you try to go zero fat, it won't be good for your body. In addition, orlistat only works if you consume fat. If you aren't eating any, then there's no reason to take it.

Stick to the rule of making 30% of your diet fat. Also, try to eat healthy fats, such as olive oil or nuts.

Remember that many foods contain fat. You may need to be more vigilant about reading nutrition labels so you are aware of how much fat is in the food items you eat. It may help to keep a log and note the fat content at each meal.

Take a Multivitamin

Another important aspect of the answer to "how does orlistat work" is that it not only blocks fat but other beneficial things you consume. It can block important vitamins in the foods you eat, which can have a negative impact on your health.

To combat, you need to take a multivitamin every day. Make sure the vitamin contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, along with beta carotene.

Take your multivitamin at a different time than you take your orlistat. Otherwise, the orlistat will simply block the vitamins and taking it will be a useless task.

Know Which Type To Take

Since orlistat is available over the counter and by prescription, you may wonder what the difference is and which you should take. You may also ask if it will impact how the drug works.

Prescription orlistat is only available if your body mass index is 30 or more. Your doctor may also prescribe it if you have a BMI of 27-29 and you have health risks associated with excess weight, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. You also must be at least 18 years old.

The prescription version has a higher dose and will block more fat. This can mean higher weight loss results. In addition, insurance may cover the cost of the medication.

Over-the-counter orlistat is available for purchase by anyone. Some stores may put an age limit on purchases, though. It has a lower dosage for less weight loss potential. It also is not something insurance would cover.

However, it is much easier to get OTC orlistat because you do not have to go see your doctor or undergo routine check-ups for taking the medication. You should be aware, though, if you have any health issues, you should see your doctor prior to taking OTC orlistat. The medication also may cause side effects that affect the liver or interact with other medications you may take, so you should always get the approval from a doctor before taking it in either form.

Have Proper Expectations

Orlistat alone will not lead to weight loss. In fact, you know now that trying to just take orlistat will result in some terrible side effects. You have to change your diet and include exercise in your daily routine.

Orlistat can help you lose additional weight than what you would lose with diet and exercise alone. Think of it as a weight-loss booster and not a method to lose weight.

You should start seeing results within two weeks once you start the medication. You won't see extreme weight loss results, though. You can expect to lose about 12% more weight in a year than you would without orlistat.

How Does Orlistat Work?

Orlistat is not a complicated medication. How it works is rather simple to understand, and once you know this, you can better use orlistat.

Knowing that it blocks fat in your intestines enables you to use it properly and minimize the side effects. You can get the most from the drug and from your weight loss journey when you have more information because it puts you in charge of things.

So, now that you how orlistat works, you can begin to consider if it would make a nice addition to your weight loss plan.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.


About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

4 min read