A new diet pill called the Obalon inflates inside your stomach to mimic the results of weight loss surgery. Once you swallow the pill, the device can stay in your stomach up to three months before it is removed.
The pill's maker, Obalon Therapeutics, claims overweight and obese patients can lose up to 20 pounds in three months because it helps you feel full, so you eat less. You can swallow up to three balloons in a 12-week period to speed up weight loss, according to the company.
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Currently the pill is available only for experimental use in the United States. But you can buy it Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain.
Though not all experts are convinced that the Obalon is effective, the idea is part of a growing trend to find alternatives to weight loss surgery, which can be expensive and risky. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery tracks alternative weight loss procedures that may one day provide a viable alternative to going under the knife.
Some procedures, like stunning the stomach and intestinal lining with the cosmetic drug Botox to reduce hunger pangs or chemically scarring the intestine to slow digestion, haven't quite panned out, said Dr. Aurora Pryor, who is the chairwoman of the Emerging Technologies Committee for the ASMBS.
The intragastric balloon, which is similar to the Obalon, shows more promise, she said.
"These are straightforward in how they work," Pryor said. "One is simply inserted into your stomach and inflated so there is less room for food."
Two Brazilian investigations followed more than 100 moderately-to-severely overweight patients who had the inflatable device endoscopically implanted. They found that the patients lost an average of 20 percent of their body weight after six months.
Related: Super Dieters Share Weight Loss Secrets Pryor said the balloons can be easily removed and the biggest risk seems to be unintentional deflation. They are available in many parts of the world but the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved them for use in the U.S.
Morgan Liscinsky, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the FDA does not comment on its ongoing approval processes for medical devices.
Another weight loss method the ASMBS is following closely is the EndoBarrier, a long, flexible tube resembling a plastic bag. The device attaches to the bottom of the stomach and snakes through the first two feet of the small intestine so that food does not come into contact with the intestine itself.
Dr. Holly Wyatt, an endocrinologist with the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado, will oversee one of the 25 FDA EndoBarrier trials of more than 500 people beginning later this year. She said the device is based on the same premise as gastric bypass but doesn't make permanent changes to the stomach's anatomy, thereby avoiding many of the risks.
"By preventing food from coming into contact with the intestinal wall and delaying digestion, it seems to alter the hormonal response and glucose regulation that originate in the intestine," Wyatt said. "We don't fully understand the mechanism but people tend not to eat as much."