Warning: If you're eating right now, you might want to stop reading before you lose your lunch. On the other hand, you might want to keep reading just so you can cherish the memory of what it was like to lose your lunch before a device did it for you. Up to you.
A new device meant to treat obesity has just been granted approval by the FDA, and while a yearlong clinical trial found that it helped obese patients lose an average of 12 percent of their total body weight (compared to just 3 percent lost by the control group), the way it works is, well, controversial.
The AspireAssist uses a surgically-placed tube to drain some of the contents from your stomach after every meal. That's right — it's basically a spigot coming out of your belly that drains masticated food directly from your stomach into the toilet.
Hey, we warned you.
Here's how it works: 20 to 30 minutes after a meal, the patient attaches an external connector and tubing to the port valve that's been surgically attached to his or her skin. The patient then turns a lever on the valve to open it, and food begins to drain out of the stomach and down into the toilet. Still with us?
After the draining slows, the patient squeezes a water reservoir that's attached to the device in order to pump water back into the stomach and loosen more of the food. Then the draining process starts all over again and is repeated until about 30 percent of the stomach's contents has been removed. The rest of the food left in the stomach is then digested normally. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes from start to finish.
The device's promotional video above shows the very unglamorous process. And then there are the not-so-pleasant side effects, which can include occasional indigestion, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and, our personal favorite, "leakage" at the port valve site.
On its surface, the idea of getting to enjoy delicious food without having to deal with the consequences of excess calories sounds great. But then you realize it also sounds a lot like an eating disorder machine, which is exactly why it's getting some heat from the medical community. Some doctors are worried that the device mimics the purging associated with bulimia and that it could be abused by those with eating disorders. Back in 2013, one professor of nutrition told ABC News that it was an "enabling device," adding that it doesn't make the patient change his or her relationship with food.
The FDA includes an obvious warning that those with eating disorders shouldn't use it, and that the device is only intended for people with BMIs of 35 to 55. And in the clinical trial, patients with the device also received nutrition and exercise counseling. But just to make sure patients are using it responsibly, the device has a safety feature that keeps track of the number of times it's used. It'll automatically stop working after 115 cycles (about five to six weeks) and patients have to see their doctors to get it reset. So there's that.
We still have so many questions. First and foremost: the smell? That can't be great. And how do you ensure that your body still gets all the right nutrients it needs to function? Sounds like directions to Deficiency City right there. And, finally: What if the valve accidentally opens at the worst possible moment? Because if coffee stains on a blouse are considered embarrassing, we don't even want to imagine stomach-drainage stains.
The latest CDC stats show that 38 percent of American adults have a BMI of 30 or more, so the device does come at a time when many people are seeking help to lose weight. We just wonder if this is the best way.