Experimental belt could help weight loss

May 8, 2008 2:31:28 PM PDT
A belt, and a nerve stimulator are proving to be a help in weight loss. But technique still doesn't beat gastric bypass. Heather Groff of Highland Springs, Va., is only 29 years old, but issues with her weight have been a lifelong struggle. At nearly 300 pounds, Groff said she has tried every diet trick she could. "I did Weight Watchers, I did one of those shake plans, I tried those diet pills," she said, explaining that none of them had worked for her. After rejecting the idea of gastric-bypass surgery, Groff learned about a new procedure called VBloc therapy. The new therapy uses laparoscopic surgery to insert a device into the abdomen, just beneath the skin. The device emits electrical signals that block the vagus nerve, which extends from the brain stem to the abdomen and controls hunger. It essentially acts as a pacemaker for hunger, helping patients feel full. After the device is implanted, patients are required to wear a belt beneath their clothes all day. The belt keeps the device activated and monitors progress. "It's like putting on your belt every morning and having to cinch it up," said Dr. John Morton, director of bariatric surgery at Stanford University in California. "Clearly, one place it's going to work on is when patients feel hungry, so patients will feel less hungry when they have the device on." Morton does both gastric-bypass surgery, which shrinks the stomach, and lap-band surgery, which places an adjustable band around the stomach to restrict food intake. He is optimistic about the new procedure. "Clearly, the risk profile of & VBloc appears to be less than other procedures," he said. It is being tested in the United States but has yet to receive Food and Drug Administration approval. "There's not going to be as much weight loss as with gastric bypass," Morton said. "But again, even a modest amount of weight loss is going to give patients a lot of health benefits." While gastric-bypass surgery allows patients to lose up to 50 percent of their excess weight in the first six months, initial studies indicate that VBloc therapy enables patients to lose about 20 percent. But unlike gastric-bypass surgery, VBloc therapy requires no major incision, meaning minimal side effects and speedy recovery time. Groff was hesitant to try gastric-bypass surgery after her mother, who had the surgery five years ago, had a difficult time. "She had to go back and go through a lot of tests because of the body not being able to absorb the nutrients," said Groff, a mother of four. But with VBloc, Groff's recovery time was short. "I really thought it would take longer," she said. "But within a week, I was up doing my normal activities." Groff underwent the procedure a little more than a month ago. She said her appetite has been cut in half. She is eating no more than 1,600 calories a day, down from the thousands she used to eat. So far, she has only lost 10 pounds. She said she is far less hungry than she has ever been, giving her hope that at last she will overcome her battle with the bulge. For those interested in joining a VBloc trial, click here for more information or call the Center's toll free number: 1-866-97-VBLOC or 1-866-978-2562. To qualify, you must be 18 to 65 years old, with a BMI of 35 to 45.