May 25th, 2016
First ice cream to cure hangovers, now balloons for weight-loss. Are kids’ birthday parties the new med schools?
A new study says that inflating balloons in the stomachs of obese patients can help them lose weight. First of all, duh, if you have an inflated balloon in your stomach, you’re not going to want to eat much. Also, that doesn’t sound very comfortable.
How does it work? The procedure, which was created by a California company, suggestively named Obalon, involves swallowing a small capsule with a long tube attached to it that sticks out of your mouth after you swallow the pill. Inside of the pill is a deflated balloon. Once the pill hits the stomach, the doctor pumps gas into the tube, inflating the balloon. Yes, this is real.
The tube gets pulled out, and the balloon remains in the stomach, where it gives the feeling of fullness. Multiple balloons can be inside the stomach at the same time.
“The balloons work by taking up space in your stomach and making you feel full earlier in the meal,” says study author Dr. Shelby Sullivan, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Patients definitely feel more full and eat less with it.”
Sullivan and her colleagues gave 387 people with obesity a trio of pills to take once every three weeks. Some were placebo sugar pills (also attached to catheters, so they wouldn’t suspect) while other pills contained the balloon. In addition to the pills, everyone in the study received “lifestyle therapy.”
At the end of six months, people who had swallowed balloons lost 6.8 percent of their total body weight—nearly twice as much as the control group, which lost 3.5 percent. Unsurprisingly, almost 90 percent of people in the study experienced side effects from having, you know, balloons inflated in their stomachs—including cramping, nausea, and in some cases vomiting.
Obalon’s procedure is approved in Europe, but not yet in the US. There are similar approaches that are FDA-approved, though not covered by insurance, such as “ReShape Integrated Dual Balloon System” which costs $7,000-$9,000, according to the company.
No word yet on what happens after after you take the balloons out of your stomach, but I’m guessing the weight is kept off easily, with no problems whatsoever.