New Weight Loss Treatment Could Curb Appetite

A Scripps expert weighs in on new device

Scripps surgeon Dr. Mark Takata talks about a new procedure called vagal blocking therapy, which is used for appetite suppression and weight loss.

Here’s good news for anyone who has tried unsuccessfully to lose a significant amount of weight: In January 2015, the FDA approved a new type of weight loss treatment unlike anything previously available. VBLOC vagal blocking therapy controls appetite without medications or traditional bariatric surgery, and Scripps Center for Weight Management is currently the only medical center in San Diego offering it.

Mark Takata, MD, is a general surgeon with Scripps Clinic who specializes in bariatric and advanced laparoscopic surgery and was involved in the two clinical trials that proved the efficacy and safety of the VBLOC device for weight loss. Dr. Takata explains why VBLOC is unique.

What makes vagal blocking therapy different than other weight loss techniques?

“VBLOC has been in development for more than 10 years, and is a completely different approach to weight loss,” says Dr. Takata. “It is a small device implanted using laparoscopic minimally invasive techniques that works like a pacemaker for your appetite.”

The device sends intermittent electrical impulses to your vagal nerve, which controls a number of sensations including hunger. Because VBLOC interferes with the transmission of hunger signals to the brain, your appetite decreases and you eat less.

Dr. Takata notes that vagal blocking therapy is not a license to eat whatever and whenever you want to. “It is a tool to help people lose weight, not a cure for obesity,” he says.

Who is a good candidate for vagal blocking therapy?

The therapy is intended for people with a BMI between 35 and 45 who have at least one obesity-related medical problem, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, or high cholesterol. People who have pacemakers or may need an MRI may not be eligible for vagal blocking therapy. Also, people who are considering this procedure should have tried to lose weight by diet and exercise in a supervised program within the past five years.

The treatment can also be a good alternative for people who don’t want traditional bariatric surgery. “Only about 1 percent of those who are candidates for traditional bariatric surgery have it,” says Dr. Takata. “Vagal blocking therapy offers an entirely different, less invasive, safe, completely reversible, and effective option for people who struggle with obesity.”

How is the VBLOC device implanted and programmed?

The device is implanted through four or five small incisions, and is generally performed on an outpatient basis. The physician then programs it to send electrical impulses to the vagal nerve according to each patient’s needs.

“As patients come back for follow up, we can see what their weight loss curve is doing and decrease or increase the intensity of the therapy accordingly,” explains Dr. Takata.

He notes that vagal blocking therapy is designed to be a long-term, permanent weight loss tool. “It can be deactivated or completely removed if desired, but patients are more likely to gain the weight back if this happens.”

How well does vagal blocking therapy work?

“In our clinical trials, people who had the therapy lost an average of 25 to 30 percent of their excess weight,” says Dr. Takata. “That’s enough to result in significant improvements in cardiac-related conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Individual results will vary depending on factors such as intensity of treatment, patient motivation and follow-up care.

VBLOC therapy is one of many medically supervised weight loss treatments available through Scripps Center for Weight Management. The center offers the full range of options, including behavior modification, meal replacement plans, support groups, pharmaceuticals and bariatric surgery.

“Successful weight loss depends on finding the treatment that best fits your goals and your lifestyle,” says Dr. Takata. “It is helpful to work with a specialist who can help you explore your options and choose the most appropriate one to help you lose weight and keep it off.”