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'Tongue Patch' Diet: The Experts Weigh In

Erica Renteria was desperate to lose, so she consulted Dr. Nikolas Chugay, who surgically implanted a mesh patch on her tongue designed to make eating solid foods incredibly painful.

How far would you go to lose weight? Some people in California are so desperate to shed those unwanted pounds, they’re undergoing a surgical procedure that makes eating solid foods incredibly painful.

More than 60 patients of plastic surgeon Dr. Nikolas Chugay, who has offices in Beverly Hills and Long Beach, have elected to have a patch surgically applied to their tongue.

That’s right – a tongue patch. On his website, Dr. Chugay said it’s designed to “make chewing of solid foods very difficult and painful, limiting the patient to a liquid diet."

Now, seldom do I get outraged – actually, that’s not true – I get outraged a lot. But when I see physicians creating therapies that are potentially dangerous to patients, I cannot help but to criticize them.

To me, the oath “do no harm” is something every doctor must live by – and what separates good medical practice from the bad, is that good medical practice is founded on solid research and strong scientific foundations.

But before going any further, in an effort to remain fair and balanced, my producers reached out to Dr. Chugay for a statement.

In a phone interview, he said he originally came up with the idea when he was traveling south of the border.

“A colleague of mine was doing something similar in Mexico,” he said. “Of course we need FDA-approved material. That’s why we use prolene mesh, which is the same material used for hernia repair. It’s a very strong material. We use prolene sutures as well because it doesn’t cause a lot of inflammation or irritation to the tongue.”

OK, so he uses FDA-approved material – but what about the potential complications from the procedure itself? When I first heard about this, all I could think of was bleeding, potential damage to the tongue and the risk of a severe infection – which could cause a patient to require corrective surgery.

Dr. Chugay told us he hasn’t seen any of that.

“I did the first procedure last spring, and so far, in the 67 patients – the side effects have been very minimal. There have been no medical issues or big problems. The only thing we’ve seen is a slight irritation of the tongue where we’ve had to remove the patch a week before.”

As a general rule, Chugay said patients keep the patch sutured to their tongue for 30 days, unless they opt to have it removed sooner.

So, what about all that solid research and strong scientific foundations? Well, Chugay said he’s discussed the procedure with several other surgeons across the country.

“Now we’re doing a study. We’re pulling all this data together and it will be published very shortly. It involves nine doctors around the U.S., Mexico and one in Canada,” he said.

Chugay said patients lose an average of 15 to 30 pounds in one month (one woman lost 39 pounds) – which comes as no real surprise, since patients are restricted to a liquid diet that adds up to a mere 750 calories a day.

The amount of calories you should be consuming each day depends on your age, weight, sex, height and level of physical activity. But, to put those 750 calories in perspective a little bit, we checked out the dietary guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they recommend children between the ages of 2 and 3 consume 1,000 calories per day. Remember, we’re talking about full-grown adults who need to lose weight – not toddlers.

“This is the equivalent of the old jaw wiring that we used to do with the oral surgeons," Dr. Carson Liu, a California-based bariatric surgeon, told us We would get oral surgeons to wire the mouth almost shut completely, but patients could only drink their calories. The problem with this is that it is a crash diet and unsustainable.”

In order to make sure his patients maintain a healthy lifestyle, Chugay said he and his team follow-up with patients for five to six months, “teaching them to take care of themselves, to eat right, exercise and deal with stresses.”

The liquid beverage – which contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats vitamins, minerals and fiber – is manufactured especially for Chugay and will costs patients $200 for a month’s supply. 

However, if a person decides to get the patch, that month’s supply is on the house.

Still, after all this, I have serious reservations about this procedure. I can’t help but think, in many ways, it’s irresponsible. I mean, what ever happened to good old fashioned diet and exercise?

But that’s just my opinion. For more insight into this, we reached out to other experts to see what they have to say…

Dr. D.J. Verret, Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and Board Certified Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgeon:

“Though I am not performing the tongue patch diet, I would caution your readers about anything which places an implant in the mouth. There is a risk of infection as well as a risk of tissue growth into the implant causing long-term pain and scarring of the tongue. This can potentially lead to problems with chewing and speaking in severe cases.”

Dr. Steven Dayan, Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois and Facial Plastic Surgeon & ENT:

"Medically speaking, I would be concerned because it’s a foreign body, and you're placing it in a part of your body that is laden with bacteria. The mouth is the dirtiest part of your body and the risk for infection would be sizable. If you were to get an infection that would spread to your oral cavity and your throat, it would be quite dangerous. It's preliminary to jump on this bandwagon. I would want to see more objective evidence that this is worth it.”

Dr. Jennifer Jablow, Cosmetic Dentist in New York City:

“This procedure seems bizarre almost like a ‘shock’ therapy for eating solid foods. Many concerns are raised here. Besides the patient not getting proper nutrition, potential risks could involve the following:

- An inflammatory reaction to the patch that could lead the tongue to swell so much that it may obstruct breathing.

- Abrasions caused in the mouth from these ragged pieces of sutures scratching the mouth, which can become infected.

- The mouth becoming an acidic environment from reflux due to the all-liquid diet and cavities forming.

- Bad breath.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD:

“A much healthier and less extreme means of weight loss would be to implement a well-balanced diet consisting of high-fiber fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and a minimal amount of fat. This diet in addition to a regular exercise regime will yield the same benefits without the need for a surgical procedure or the pain involved.”

At the end of the day, my advice is pretty simple when it comes to “tongue patch” diet: Keep your tongue in your mouth and stick to more traditional and safe methods of losing weight.

FoxNews.com's Karlie Pouliot contributed to this report.

 

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as FOX News Channel's (FNC) Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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