Weight Loss Implant
In the latest entry in the magic bullet category for weight loss, scientists have come up with a microchip implant that is intended to help suppress appetite. One quick procedure to have this "intelligent" microchip implanted and the patient will potentially want less food. The ultimate goal would be to shed pounds easily, since--theoretically, at least--portions and calorie intake would be much smaller.
The research is based out of Imperial College London in the United Kingdom and has received funding from the European Research Council.1 Created as a less invasive, reversible alternative to gastric bypass surgery, the device is implanted in a laparoscopic procedure on the vagus nerve in the peritoneal cavity near the wall of the abdomen. The vagus nerve is responsible for sending messages of hunger to the brain. Although it's involved in swallowing, speech, other vital activities, and even hiccuping, more than 80 percent of the vagus nerve is used for communication between the gut and the brain.2
The chip itself is tiny, with a length of only a few millimeters. Cuff electrodes are used to attach the chip to the vagus nerve where it processes both the electrical and chemical signals relating to appetite. The microchip implant then sends off electrical signals of its own via the vagus nerve to tell the brain that enough food has been consumed. It relies on the concept that the brain is not receiving the message that the stomach is getting full, so the person continues eating.
There are other, similar devices currently in the works. While the one designed in the United Kingdom is just beginning animal testing and is still approximately three years away from human trials, a United States version developed by the company EnteroMedics already has results from human trials. When tested on 239 patients, their device reportedly helped 52.5 percent of the subjects to lose nearly 25 percent of their excess weight.3 This is in comparison to gastric bypass surgery, which has a success rate of between 57 and 93 percent depending on the level of obesity, according to a 2000 study at Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill University in Montreal, Canada.4
Although both of the microchip devices presently being tested involve an implant on the vagus nerve, the U.K. chip is the only one that measures chemical reactions in addition to the electrical ones. The researchers believe this will make a big difference in precision and discerning only the pertinent impulses and signals. In theory, this should produce no side effects because it acts on the normal impulses of the body to suppress the patient's appetite, resulting in a major calorie cutback every day.
This implant might represent a better option than gastric bypass surgery, the use of which is up over 1,000% in the last ten years and which can lead to serious complications including ulcers, vitamin absorption problems, and a narrowing of the area where the stomach and small intestine meet.5 However, placing the implant is still a surgical procedure and that opens patients up to a range of possible side effects such as reactions to anesthesia, infections, and damage to the nerves or blood vessels.
Plus, let's remember that not all people overeat simply because their brains do not receive the signal from their stomachs that they are full. Obese people may have a range of other issues such as stress, a desire for comfort foods, or even food addiction, aside from ignoring the signals telling them they have reached satiety, in which case a chip such as this would do absolutely no good.
Ultimately, this implant may just be a simpler, slightly safer version of the magic bullet approach to weight loss. And let's keep in mind that as a magic bullet gastric bypass surgery is not the overwhelming success that doctors would have us believe it to be. Fewer than 10% who undergo the procedure ever reach a normal BMI, and at least 10% gain back most, if not all, of the weight they lost. One has to one wonder if the chip will do any better. Many people just want a quick fix, hoping that an implant will stop their hunger, along with all the other needs they use food to fill and that the weight will come flying off. Yes, it might help some get started, but the hard work is still ahead. People have to learn portion control, the concept of eating to provide the body with nutrition rather than empty calories, and start exercising to enable the organs and muscles within to be healthy. Even if all of the excess weight is shed--something that no testing has demonstrated yet--without the correct approach, the body can still be full of internal fat and very unhealthy even if it is downright skinny.
- 1. Bowdler, Neil. "Electronic implant designed to reduce obesity to undergo trials." BBC News. 28 March 2013. Accessed 1 April 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21852062
- 2. Zagst, Daniel. "The Vagus nerve: Your friend in weight loss and a better mood." Natural News. 27 December 2012. Accessed 1 April 2013. http://www.naturalnews.com/038473_Vagus_nerve_weight_loss_moods.html
- 3. "EnteroMedics VBLOC Therapy." EnteroMedics. Accessed 1 April 2013. http://ir.enteromedics.com/documentdisplay.cfm?DocumentID=2692
- 4. MacLean, Lloyd D., et al. "Late Outcome of Isolated Gastric Bypass." Annals of Surgery. April 2000. Accessed 1 April 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1421028
- 5. "Bariatric Surgery." Mayo Clinic. Accessed 1 April 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.org/bariatric-surgery/complications.html