You may be familiar with Botox’s uses beyond wrinkle smoothing—as a migraine cure, or to keep sweat at bay (ICYMI, women are even getting it in their scalps to save their blowouts!), but there’s another supposed perk of the muscle-freezing drug that you may not have heard of: weight loss.
Botox (AKA Botulinum toxin) may help obese people lose weight by blocking a key nerve in the stomach that controls feelings of hunger and satiety, according to a recent study presented at Digestive Disease Week (a scientific meeting of physicians and researchers focused on digestive diseases).
For the study, researchers in Norway injected Botox into the stomachs of 20 obese people, who had BMIs ranging from 35 to 44. Patients received an initial injection and then a second injection six months later. One year (and two injections) later, 70 percent of the patients had reportedly lost weight. On average, they lost 17 percent of their “excess body weight,” (the amount of weight in excess of a “normal” BMI of 25), the study reported. And after 18 months, when the patients had received three injections, 75 percent had lost weight; patients lost, on average, 28 percent of their excess body weight.
The researchers admit that while the study was small, and more research is still needed to confirm the results, this procedure could become “another new way to treat obesity,” according to study co-author Duan Chen, Ph.D., a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
So what do other docs think about this use for Botox? While the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry proves that people will do just about anything to lose weight and many physicians may be eager to jump on board, you shouldn’t be lining up for it just yet, says Matthew Schulman, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon.
He explains that the use of Botox injections for weight loss is actually nothing new—studies on the topic can be found dating back over 10 years—but there’s still a lack of convincing evidence that this is really an effective weight loss method. And there’s a fair amount of risk involved.
“Botox injections are not 100 percent safe in this location,” he says. That’s because unlike Botox in the face, which is a relatively quick and simple office visit, stomach injections require sedation and the insertion of an endoscope in the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach, Schulman says. There are inherent risks to this type of procedure, including anesthetic reaction, organ perforation, and bleeding. Yikes.
Schulman also explains that paralysis of the stomach muscles and vagus nerve can lead to bloating, vomiting, digestive problems, and even breathing issues. (It should be noted that, according to Chen, patients did not experience serious side effects in the new study or in previous studies of Botox for weight loss.)
Not to mention, using Botox to block feedback between the stomach and the brain would lead to temporary results, since Botox lasts only about 4-6 months, Schulman says. (Which is why patients in the study received three total injections.)