A procedure used to treat
bleeding stomach ulcers could stand as a potential weapon in the battle of the
bulge, a small preliminary study suggests.
The procedure is called
gastric artery embolisation. It involves using a catheter to introduce some
"obstructive agent" – like tiny beads or gel foam – into an artery
supplying the stomach.
In the new study,
researchers reviewed the records of 14 patients who underwent embolisation of
the left gastric artery to treat stomach bleeding. Over the next three months,
those patients lost 8% of their body weight, on average.
That compared with a 1% weight
loss among 18 patients who were treated for the same problem, but had a
different artery embolised.
That difference is
"intriguing", the researchers said, because the left gastric artery
supplies the area of the stomach that churns out the appetite-boosting hormone
Route to a trimmer physique
It's possible that the
reduced blood flow to that stomach region curbed patients' ghrelin production, according
to lead researcher Dr Rahmi Oklu, an assistant professor of radiology at
Harvard Medical School, in Boston.
However, no one is saying
embolisation is the new route to a trimmer physique.
"This is just an
observation that deserves more study," Oklu said. "Our point is just
to say, let's look at this. It still needs to be rigorously investigated."
The findings will be
presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America,
being held next week in Chicago. In general, studies presented at meetings are
considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Lowering ghrelin levels
Since the results were
based on patient records, Oklu's team does not actually know if embolisation
lowered people's ghrelin levels.
But animal studies suggest
that could be the case, according to Dr Mitchell Roslin, chief of bariatric
(weight-loss) and metabolic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City.
"There is some science
behind this," said Roslin, who was not involved in the study.
Still, he doubted that embolisation
will help obese people see lasting weight loss. Ghrelin is only one of the
hormones involved in appetite and metabolism. When one hormone's activity is
altered, the body generally finds a way to compensate.
"With weight loss, you
have to look at the long term," Roslin said. "My guess is, the
response with [embolisation] will be fleeting."
Gastric embolisation is a
minimally invasive procedure, and Oklu said it's a generally safe, same-day
procedure. But it is normally used to treat bleeding – no one knows how it
would work out as an obesity treatment.
Tinkering with hormones
Researchers have, however,
already taken a first, small step. Earlier this year, investigators reported on
the first five patients to have gastric artery embolisation specifically to
In that study, reported at
an American College of Cardiology meeting, patients lost an average of 45
pounds in six months, and there were no complications. However, patients'
ghrelin levels, which had dropped in the first few months after the procedure,
were on the rise again by the sixth month.
And that is what you'd
expect when tinkering with the hormone, according to Lenox Hill's Roslin.
"I really can't imagine this will hold up in the long term," he said.
But study author Oklu said
that even if ghrelin levels don't stay down, the procedure might give some
people the weight loss jump-start they need.
And, he said, it might be
appealing to patients who want an alternative to the extensive surgeries that,
right now, stand as the only option for substantial, long-term weight loss.
The US National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute has more on managing obesity.