Swallowing a Balloon for Weight Loss?

A new study found that patients who swallowed a special balloon lost close to 7 percent of their body weight.



A new study found that swallowing a pill that is then inflated with gas can result in weight loss of nearly 7 percent of body weight, on average.

In this study of what is called the Obalon balloon treatment, 65 percent of people who swallowed at least three of these special balloons over a three-month period lost up to 5 percent of their body weight. In a Healio Endocrine Today report, participants often also experienced improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and fasting glucose levels.

The study consisted of 366 people randomly divided into two groups. Patients in the test group received the capsule containing the balloon; the other group received a placebo and even went through a fake process for “inflating” the placebo. For the test group, after the pill was swallowed it was filled with one cup of gas. The inflated balloon took up the space that food would otherwise fill, helping the participants to feel fuller for longer. Participants in both groups also met with a dietician every three weeks to discuss lifestyle changes.

After the 24 weeks of the study, the researchers extracted the balloons to measure weight loss. On average, the test group lost on average 6.81 percent of body weight; the control group lost roughly half the amount at 3.59 percent, on average.

Another advantage is that more participants on the balloon treatment reached a goal of losing at least five percent of body weight. Some 64 percent of participants receiving the balloon treatment reached that goal, while only 32 percent of the control group lost at least that amount. A significant number of participants with the balloons reported stomach discomfort, but overall the side effects were minimal.

The study results comes with some caveats. First, the lead researcher for this study, Dr. Shelby Sullivan, reported financial ties to Obalon, so this should be considered an industry-funded study (that being said, Dr. Sullivan is also the bariatric endoscopy director of the Washington University School of Medicine). Secondly, it should be noted that the novel treatment only achieved 3.22 percent greater weight loss than lifestyle intervention and a placebo alone – while that’s good, it’s also a good reminder that significant weight loss can be achievable just through lifestyle intervention, as well.

Researchers will continue to follow the patients in both groups to track continued weight management after the removal of the balloons. Obalon has been approved in Europe for use and will undergo is currently undergoing further trials in the United States.

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Courtney Major currently attends Emerson College where she majors in Writing, Literature, and Publishing with a minor in Marketing Communications.