Botox: Do Stomach Injections Help People Lose Weight?

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When most people hear the word botox, they probably think of cosmetic surgery. While it is often used as an alternative to cosmetic or plastic surgery for wrinkle reduction and removal, it is actually used to treat a variety of chronic muscular conditions and physical ailments.

Botox: Do Stomach Injections Help People Lose Weight?

Created from the neurotoxin, botulinum toxin, just the name of the drug is somewhat intimidating. Contrary to popular belief, use of the drug is safe and non-toxic as long as the injections are administered by a licensed dermatologist. Delivered to medical facilities in powder form, the drug is then diluted with saline and administered as an injectable.

Although rare, the drug’s manufacturer has also found that the drug may “cause serious side effects, including muscle weakness, double vision and trouble breathing” (Rettner, 2016). In some patients and when the drug was not used as intended, it has been known to spread from the site of the injection and cause adverse effects to other parts of the body.

Botox Alternative for Weight Loss

Recently, it has been discovered that the drug may assist obese individuals with weight loss. A Norwegian study of 20 overweight individuals with body mass indexes (BMIs) ranging from 35 to 44, concluded that after one year with an injection administered twice annually, nearly 70 percent of the group had lost weight and decreased their BMI by 17 percent. Increasing the injections to three times semiannually within 18 months, three-fourths of the same group saw a dramatic decrease in weight and an astounding drop of 28% in their BMIs.

The Botox injection is administered into the patient’s stomach, and the drug blocks one of the primary nerves in the stomach that controls the feelings of fullness and cravings for food. These injections were first tested on rats when scientists targeted the vagus nerve. The rats whose vagus nerves were cut did not lose weight after receiving the injections, while those whose nerves were intact experienced weight loss. Further research on the effects of the drug on animals determined that the overall weight loss was reduced up to one-third in a period of only five weeks. This preliminary study brought about the use of the drug in humans with injections aimed at suppressing the vagus nerve.

During a similar trial conducted at Trondheim University Hospital, Norway, an endoscope with a needle is inserted into the patient’s mouth, then travels to the stomach where the drug is injected into the wall of the intestine. These injections were found to decrease the urge to eat by decreasing the rate that food is digested by 50 percent.

Unfortunately, there are also doubts that these injections contribute to weight loss at all. In fact, the American Gastroenterological Association determined that although the alternative treatment slowed the processes of emptying the stomach, the presence of the drug did not lead to any substantial loss of weight.

In addition, individuals who do see a decrease in weight and BMI find that it is only temporary and lasts three to six months. Despite data that these injections may provide positive outcomes, the results are not permanent. Most physicians still advise patients that the best way to maintain a healthy weight is through proper diet, lifestyle, and regular exercise.

The Cost of Treatment

As with any type of cosmetic surgery, the injections are sure to be costly. Another factor that patients should consider is that most of these procedures are not covered by insurance and are self-pay.

One program offered through The Johns Hopkins Hospital is the Gastric Injection Weight Loss Program. The initial consultation only is $200, and after learning the program details, only those with a BMI of 27.5 to 40 qualify for the treatment.

Their specific program offers ‘bundled’ services, and depending on the variety of optional follow up services patients select, expenses vary.

Bundled service include:

  • “Initial and follow-up evaluations with board-certified gastroenterologist
  • Dietary/nutritional consultation with licensed nutritionist
  • Outpatient gastrointestinal endoscopic procedure
  • Behavior modification session with licensed clinical counselor”(Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2017).