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Alert over slimming pill linked to kidney failures

A warning about an over-the-counter slimming product, which has been linked to kidney failure and convulsions, has been issued by the Irish Medicines Board.

The product, alli, is made by GlaxoSmithKline and is on sale in pharmacies without prescription.

The IMB warning comes on foot of "revised product information" sent to healthcare professionals by GlaxoSmithKline.

The company says that patients with kidney disease should consult their doctor before taking the pills as their use could lead to a condition which causes kidney failure.

The pills may also interfere with prescribed anti-epileptic medicines increasing the risk of convulsions and can react adversely with medication for thyroid conditions.

Inflammation of the pancreas "has been added to the list of undesirable effects as it has been reported in a number of patients" says the company. The pills are advertised as "a weight loss medicine" to be used with a calorie and fat controlled diet.

According to the manufacturers, alli works by "stopping some of the fat you eat from being absorbed, so for every 2 lbs (1kg) you lose from eating healthily, with alli capsules you can lose 1lb (1/2kg) more."

It says that alli contains orlistat "which works in a unique way by attaching itself to some of the digestive enzymes that break down fat. This stops some of the fat you eat from being digested and absorbed, so the unabsorbed fat passes naturally out of the body in your stools.

"Alli only works on the enzymes that digest fat, so proteins and carbohydrates aren't affected and your body can still absorb these nutrients as normal."

It also says that "alli is currently the only medicine to be granted a non-prescription licence for weight loss".

GlaxoSmithKline estimates that 40 million patients have used alli since it was launched 10 years ago. They ask anyone who has an adverse reaction to report it to the Irish Medicines Board and to the company. The warning will be added to the Information Leaflet with the packs of 60mg capsules.