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Alli, GlaxoSmithKline’s new over-the-counter weight loss medicine, was rolled out in Europe this week, and the world of weight loss is all abuzz.

But Alli is not a magical cure for obesity, nor is it new. It’s the half-strength version of Xenical, aka tetrahydrolipstatin — a fat absorption inhibitor that Americans—most famously Winona Judd– have come to know and love.

Both Xenical and Alli work by blocking the body’s ability to break down and absorb some of the fat. Less fat equals fewer calories equals less weight equals sounds great!

However, Alli has a dark side. When you take Alli, any unabsorbed fat you eat has nowhere to go but out. And that’s when the fireworks begin – colorful side effects including “spotting” and “gas with discharge,” among others.

Despite its possibilities as a source of fraternity-house humor (and added income for the dry cleaning industry), Alli’s side effects should not be pooh-poohed. The only real treatment for obesity is – you guessed it — physical exercise and proper diet, with surgery as a final resort

While Alli may be available without a prescription, you shouldn’t take it, or any other weight loss “miracle pill”, unless your doctor gives you the OK.

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