FDA’s recent approval of a new device that literally empties contents of a person’s stomach brings good news to those looking for more drastic ways to lose weight. The AspireAssist device is primarily intended for particularly obese individuals at least 22 years of age who have had difficulties losing weight by other means such as dieting or weight loss pills. This radical new treatment delivers tangible results with most patients reporting a loss of approximately 12 percent of body weight. AspireAssist distinguishes itself from other weight loss treatments by eliminating contents of the stomach before they can be digested. As such, it offers an effective new way to lose weight while providing an alternative to surgery. According to the initial FDA study, patients who used the device lost three times more weight than those who only relied on exercise and nutrition counseling. Given the fact that at least one in three American adults and one in six children are considered obese, FDA’s green light to this stomach pump device has the potential to make a difference in ongoing efforts to combat the obesity epidemic.
In spite of offering a radical new means to losing weight, the AspireAssist device is considered minimally invasive. This treatment involves an endoscopic procedure, performed under sedation, whereby a tube is extended from the skin of the abdominal wall into the stomach. The tube is attached to the device about the size of a smartphone that can be used to pump the contents of the patient’s stomach into a toilet. It is advised that patients eliminate no more than 30 percent of stomach contents. Following this procedure that lasts up to 10 minutes, the device refills the stomach with water contained in a small reservoir. It must be noted that AspireAssist calls for regular visits to the doctor to shorten the tube as the patient gradually loses weight. In order to make sure that patients follow through on their trips to the doctor’s office, the device comes with a safety feature that automatically shuts it off after 115 cycles and can only be renewed by the physician. While the patient may choose to keep the device over an extended period of time, it can be easily removed at any time with the hole in the abdomen eventually closing up on its own.
The FDA approval comes with a proviso that AspireAssist should only be used by adults (22 years of age and older) who have been unable to lose weight through non-surgical interventions. It is not recommended for moderately overweight individuals. Keeping in mind that obesity presupposes a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30, AspireAssist is designed primarily for significantly obese patients with a BMI between 35 and 55. Furthermore, this form of treatment is not advised for patients experiencing eating disorders such as bulimia. Indeed, some detractors have disparagingly described the procedure as “assisted bulimia,” arguing that it essentially enables binge-and-purge behavior. In defense of this device, Aspire Bariatrics CEO Katherine Crothall has maintained that it contributes neither to overeating nor to eating disorders.
Opting for a more fair and balanced assessment of AspireAssist, Dr. Shawn Garber, President of the New York Bariatric Group, praises the device for being safe and effective, but also notes that surgery may still be the best option for morbidly obese individuals: “The most popular procedure is sleeve gastrectomy – but there is a subset of patients that are scared of surgery, or there are
people that because of their health conditions can’t have surgery. This is a great option for those patients.”
Upon the FDA approval, AspireAssist immediately sparked considerable controversy among doctors and social commentators alike. Some nutrition specialists were quick to pan it as a “bulimia machine.” One endocrinologist and diabetologist, Dr. Joseph Gutman, even announced plans to rally other physicians to sue the FDA for their approval of AspireAssist. Detractors like Gutman argue that, instead of encouraging obese patients to adopt healthy eating habits and more active way of life, the device enables the root causes of obesity such as overeating and sedentary lifestyle. That being said, Dr. Shelby Sullivan who participated in test trials for AspireAssist stresses that “there is no such thing as medical bulimia or assisted bulimia” and insists that “patients eat less with this therapy then they did before.”
Treatment with AspireAssist comes with the risk of side effects such as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, occasional indigestion, potential leakage, bleeding, and infection around the site of tube placement. The use of this device is contraindicated for patients with uncontrolled hypertension, inflammatory bowel disease, stomach ulcers, pregnancy, certain types of previous abdominal surgery, and eating disorders such as bulimia or binge-eating disorder. For these reasons, patients who use AspireAssist need to be carefully monitored by their physicians over the course of weight-loss program. Ideally, this form of treatment should be accompanied by a lifestyle counseling designed to assist patients in adopting healthier eating habits and limiting their calorie intake.