Millions of Britons could lose more than two stone by taking a pill which contains a balloon, a study suggests.
The results – unveiled at the world’s largest obesity conference – showed it can be an effective alternative to weight loss surgery.
Experts said the NHS should now consider funding the pills for millions of Britons, with more than one in four obese.
After the pill is swallowed, the balloon swells up in the stomach when it is filled with water – restricting the amount of calories a person can eat.
The study of 42 adults found they lost two stone and six pounds on average after four months.
Because the Elipse Balloon does not require endoscopy, surgery or anaesthesia, this may make it suitable for a larger population of obese patientsDr Roberta Ienca
The pill – dubbed a “gastric band in a tablet” – is licensed for use, but not yet available on the NHS. It costs around £3,000 privately – around half the price of stomach stapling.
Researchers from the University of Rome said the balloon technique could be used widely and bring “significant cost savings” to health services in the long run.
The head of the NHS has recently warned that obesity is the greatest challenge facing the service, fuelling £10bn spending on diabetes.
The research, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, found patients who were given the one off pill, lost an average of 36 pounds – over 14 per cent of their total body weight.
They also saw significant improvements in their health including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar control.
The ease of the technique – avoiding anaesthetics or surgery – meant it could be popular with swathes of failed dieters, they said.
The pill is attached to a thin tube, meaning the balloon can be filled with water after it reaches the stomach.
Experts said counselling was necessary to ensure that patients kept the weight off, after the empty balloon passes out through the body.
Dr Roberta Ienca, from the University of Rome, said: “Because the Elipse Balloon does not require endoscopy, surgery or anaesthesia, this may make it suitable for a larger population of obese patients not responding to diet and lifestyle treatment.”
The pill would not even need to be administered by a doctor, she said, suggesting nutritionists and dieticians could dole out the medication.
The results triggered an “incredible” reaction from patients, who had struggled with their weight for years, she said.
Professor Jason Halford, from the European Association for the Study of Obesity, said: “This is to help people manage their appetite. If they have the balloon but they are also modifying their behaviour and the balloon helps them do that, that would be excellent. In that context it could be a solution for people who don’t want to go for full bariatric surgery.”
The researcher, from the University of Liverpool, said “millions” of people could benefit from the treatment, if NHS would agree to pay for it.
Prof Halford said: “I think this is for people before they would get to the point where they need bariatric surgery. It would be an alternative to an anti-obesity drug, which would come between the BMI 30 plus when people have tried everything and drugs have not worked….for somebody in that position it might be a good intervention.”
Dr Simon Cork, Research Fellow at the Department of Investigative Medicine, Imperial College London, said:“This is an interesting study with interesting outcomes for clinical practice.”
“Currently gastric balloons have to be inserted under general anaesthetic or sedation. This not only limits the number of patients who can have them implanted, but also increases surgery time and has significant costs associated with it.”
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “Balloons should take all the fear and angst out of a bariatric procedure. If you need treatment and are offered the balloon experience, go for it.”
Credit: The Telegraph