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Despite advances, 'magic pill' eludes dieters


January 31, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For some people, it may sound too good to be true: a way to eat plenty of heavy food without getting fat.

That's the promise of Xenical, a new diet pill not yet available on drug store shelves.

Xenical prevents the body from absorbing about a third of the fat eaten. That way, the fat passes straight through one's body, instead of sticking to thighs or other parts where it's visible.

But the pill comes with some unpleasant side effects: gas and diarrhea.

Xenical is supposed to be combined with a moderately low fat diet and exercise. People lose, on average, about 10 percent of their original weight with the drug. Manufacturer Hoffman- LaRouche has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve it.


Even closer to FDA approval is Meridia, a weight loss drug made by Knoll Pharmaceutical.

Like the hot diet pills Redux and Fen-Phen, Meridia makes one feel less hungry. Unlike those drugs, it doesn't appear to be linked to a fatal lung disease.

The down side is Meridia can raise blood pressure, illustrating that scientists still haven't devised a miracle cure for weight loss.


Just ask Lynn McAfee of the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, who has been trying out weight loss drugs since she was six years old. "I'm a very fat woman, and I think that every fat person has been brought up wanting the magic pill."

Still, obesity experts such as Jim Hill of the University of Colorado think the problem can be managed.

"There's some sense that at least with blood pressure, it's fairly easily measured, and if there is an increase, then the physician can take the patient off the drug fairly quickly," Hill said.

The new diet pills are a tool, not the solution, Hill said.

"I really caution people into thinking the pills are going to do the job, that we don't have to do anything else. We can sit on the couch and eat our high-fat foods and take our pill and be thin," said Hill.

Studies have shown that people have to stay on diet pills indefinitely -- or they regain the weight.

And there's nothing magic about that.


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