What’s the difference between Orlistat, Xenical and Alli?

Weight loss tablets - do they really work?


We are being told all the time, maybe it’s friends and family or by the onslaught from the media about how dangerous it is to be overweight - or even worse - OBESE!

Of course, it’s bad for us and it’s a major problem in the UK which is getting worse by the day.   At present, it is believed that as many as a quarter of all adults and a fifth of all children aged 10 - 11 years are obese.

Obese is the term used to describe a person that is overweight but is overweight with a large proportion of body fat, as opposed to a person who may weigh the same but have a large proportion of muscle tissue.

There are, of course, some health conditions which may contribute to this problem such as an underactive thyroid.  This can be successfully treated with medication

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Health problems related to obesity

There are many however we will list a selection below:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Atherosclerosis or narrowing of the arteries
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Strokes
  • Asthma
  • The metabolic syndrome which consists of a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity
  • Some cancers including breast cancer, bowel cancer and cancer of the uterus (womb)
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) where stomach acid leaks out of the stomach and into the oesophagus
  • Gallstones
  • Reduced fertility
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnoea - a condition which causes interrupted breathing whilst sleeping
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Pregnancy complications, for instance, gestational diabetes.


Treating obesity

Diet and lifestyle

We all know that the best way to lose weight is by following a well-balanced, healthy, calorie-controlled diet alongside regular exercise.  Before embarking on this it is advisable to seek professional advice from either a doctor or a dietician. 

Alternatively, you may decide to attend a weight loss group; there are several reputable organisations to choose from.

The outlook for this approach is that it is not a quick fix.  It takes time, devotion and commitment and ultimately results are only to be maintained by aiming for a total change of lifestyle which incorporates a balanced and healthy diet along with a good exercise regimen


Psychological support

In some cases there may be deep-seated causes for the sufferer’s propensity to overweight and professional counselling may assist in resolving these problems



Despite clinical trials on many forms of weight loss medication, the only one that has proved safe and effective to the point of being licenced is orlistat.  This is the active ingredient in all three drugs, Orlistat, Xenical and Alli.

Note that these drugs must be used in conjunction with a calories controlled diet and an exercise regime.


Differences between the three weight-loss drugs


Orlistat is known as the generic form of the drug;  it blocks approximately a third of the fat in your diet from being absorbed through the gut; it is passed through and out of the body in the faeces.

It is available on prescription only in 120mg dose



As mentioned above. Orlistat is the active ingredient in Xenical.  It is available on prescription only in 120mg dose but as this drug has been broadly (and at great expense) marketed, it is a better-known pill and more expensive.



As in the case of Xenical, orlistat is the active ingredient in Alli, however

Alli is not a prescription drug.  It is available over the counter under the supervision of a pharmacist and this is because it comes in half the dose at 60mg.  As a result, it blocks less dietary fat from crossing into the bloodstream, that is, only a quarter as opposed to a third



  1. Overview - Obesity
  2. Treatment - Obesity
  3. Prescription weight-loss drugs
  4. 12 popular weight loss pills and supplements reviewed
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