Orlistat-associated adverse effects and drug interactions: a critical review

Drug Saf. 2008;31(1):53-65. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200831010-00005.


Orlistat, an anti-obesity drug, is a potent and specific inhibitor of intestinal lipases. In light of the recent US FDA approval of the over-the-counter sale of orlistat (60 mg three times daily), clinicians need to be aware that its use may be associated with less well known, but sometimes clinically relevant, adverse effects. More specifically, the use of orlistat has been associated with several mild-to-moderate gastrointestinal adverse effects, such as oily stools, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and faecal spotting. A few cases of serious hepatic adverse effects (cholelithiasis, cholostatic hepatitis and subacute liver failure) have been reported. However, the effects of orlistat on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are beneficial. Orlistat-induced weight loss seems to have beneficial effects on blood pressure. No effect has been observed on calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper or zinc balance or on bone biomarkers. Interestingly, the use of orlistat has been associated with rare cases of acute kidney injury, possibly due to the increased fat malabsorption resulting from the inhibition of pancreatic and gastric lipase by orlistat, leading to the formation of soaps with calcium and resulting in increased free oxalate absorption and enteric hyperoxaluria. Orlistat has a beneficial effect on carbohydrate metabolism. No significant effect on cancer risk has been reported with orlistat.Orlistat interferes with the absorption of many drugs (such as warfarin, amiodarone, ciclosporin and thyroxine as well as fat-soluble vitamins), affecting their bioavailability and effectiveness. This review considers orlistat-related adverse effects and drug interactions. The clinical relevance and pathogenesis of these effects is also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Obesity Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drug Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / enzymology
  • Lactones / adverse effects*
  • Lactones / therapeutic use
  • Lipase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nonprescription Drugs / adverse effects
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Orlistat


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Lactones
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Orlistat
  • Lipase