Dieters sew patch onto tongue to lose weight

May 2, 2011 8:41:38 PM PDT
A new way people are losing weight has some doctors concerned.

Erica Renteria was skeptical that a tiny patch would help her lose weight.

"[But] when I tried it myself, I was like 'wow, this works,'" Erica said.

The patch, now known as the Diet Tongue Patch, was invented by Dr. Nikolas Chugay, an aesthetic plastic surgeon. During an in-office procedure, he numbs the tongue. The patch, which is made of material approved for other medical uses, is then sewn onto the tongue.

"We put 4 to 6 stitches right into the patch and a little portion of the tongue to really secure it so it stays there for a month or 6 weeks," Dr. Chugay said.

The placement of the patch makes it uncomfortable to eat solid food.

"Your tongue does feel like, if you want to chew, it'll get stuck so you won't be able to eat it," Erica said.

So patients follow a liquid only diet that Dr. Chugay says provides adequate nutrition, but restricts calories to 800 a day. Other doctors don't doubt patients will lose weight with the patch, but are concerned it may be too extreme.

Dr. Howard Krein, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Jefferson University Hospital, hasn't seen the patch in person, but says the procedure comes with risks.

"Certainly anytime you are invading or stitching into the tongue, you have risk of infection, you have risk of swelling, certainly nerve damage or even tissue necrosis," Dr. Krein said.

He also questions what if the patch falls off - could it block the airway?

Dr. Chogay denies any such complications have ever occurred, but he also has patients take an antibiotic just in case of infection.

And while he admits the patch is an extreme diet plan, he also says it helps people change their overall behavior, reminding them to eat healthier even when the patch is removed.

Dr. Krein doesn't buy it.

"I think there are better ways to lose weight," Dr. Krein said.

For Erica, after three weeks with the tongue patch, she lost 20 pounds but she admits, "I am the type of person that doesn't care how you lose the weight as long as you lose it, so I would do it again."

The tongue patch costs about $1,800 for the procedure and the diet drinks together.

Dr. Chugay says there are about 10 doctors performing this procedure. None are in our area, but there are some patients who are traveling from near our area to get the patch.

Many weight loss experts I spoke with say they hope this does not become a popular trend.