Tongue Patch Surgery: Risky Weight Loss Procedure Draws Criticism

The new fad in weight loss: Having plastic sewn onto your tongue so you can't eat. (Photo: drchugay.com)There is a dangerous weight loss fad in Beverly Hills, and it's not pretty. In order to lose as many as 30 pounds in a single month, patients are having postage-stamp size pieces of rough plastic sewn onto their tongues, making it impossible for them to eat.

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The plastic is attached with six stitches and left in place for up to one month. It makes eating solid food so painful that the patient is forced to drink only liquids, which which causes rapid weight loss. The procedure was developed by Dr. Nikolas Chugay, whose California clinic is the only place in the United States that offers the surgery, which has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

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"I see no harm in a minimally invasive procedure to help that overweight/obese patient," wrote Dr. Chugay, who calls it a "Miracle Patch" in response to critics on YouTube. "This procedure is not the solution to the person's problems but a way in which we can create a pattern to interrupt and help that patient get back on course." He pairs the procedure with a special 800-calorie liquid diet to maximize weight loss.

He may call it minimally invasive, but the plastic patch is still plenty risky. On his website, Dr. Chugay warns that patients may experience tongue swelling for one to two days after the operation, and that "speech may be affected during this time." The patch is made of marlex, a material usually used during hernia repair, and must be removed after a month otherwise the tongue starts to grow around and into it.

Dangerous weight loss trends are nothing new -- and they don't really help you lose much weight. When people wired their mouths shut in order to avoid eating solid foods, they ended up drinking milkshakes and other high-calorie foods anyway. Juice fasts are popular right now, but you lose out on fiber, can end up undernourished, and your metabolism slows down, which makes it harder to fight the fat. Ultra-low calorie diets that focus on just one type of food (think the Cabbage Diet and the Grapefruit Diet) and pretty much any diet followed by Victoria's Secret models is almost certain to be dangerous in the long run.

Dr. Richard Chaffoo, plastic surgeon in La Jolla, California, who holds certifications from the American Board of Plastic Surgery, American Board of Otolaryngology, and American Board of Facial and Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, called the tongue patch procedure dangerous, flawed, and unethical.

"Basically, this is a sham, an unethical procedure," he told Yahoo! Shine in a telephone interview. "You're swallowing all the time, every day. Every time you yawn, you move, you open your mouth. Your tongue doesn't just sit there until you eat something. So I think the basic theory is flawed."

The potential problems from such a surgery go beyond what Dr. Chugay discloses on his website, Dr. Chaffoo told Yahoo! Shine.

"With any kind of thing you put in there and suture into the tongue, you run the risk of getting an infection," Dr. Chaffoo explained. "You're going to be drooling a lot, it's going to be really painful. Anything that's in there that shouldn't be there s going to rub the surface raw. You could get an ulcer, an infection. It could dislodge and go down your throat and cause an airway obstruction."

The 800-calorie-a-day liquid diet that goes with the tongue patch is also problematic, Dr. Chaffoo told Yahoo! Shine.

"What will happen is the body will actually begin to eat it's own tissue," he explained. "You'll have muscle loss. You'll starve yourself to death."

Dr. Chugay says he's consulted with about 100 people and performed the procedure on about 60 of them since 2009. Chuguy's procedure is becoming a craze in Venezuela. Ana Maria Parra of Obesiesbel, a clinic in Caracas, Venezuela, told Time that she has seen about 900 potential patients each month since she started offering the patch in 2011. There, the surgery is much less expensive—just $150, compared to $2,000 at Dr. Chugay's clinic in California. Time points out that the cheap cost could encourage plastic surgery tourism for the dicey operation.

Yomaira Zamora of Charallave, Venezuela, confirmed that the patch is as painful as it looks. "At the start you can’t even move your tongue for the pain. I’ve tried to eat solid food but it’s impossible," she told Time. "It’s a huge inconvenience, but I’m doing it to feel better about myself. I was very fat."

Her aunt, Vilmaris Ojeda, got the tongue patch surgery at the same time. "It seems extreme," she admits. "But the challenge is going to come once they take it out. Not eating is easy when you physically can't."

Experts like Dr. Chaffoo agree.

"Weight loss is really a change in your lifestyle," he told Yahoo! Shine. "You really have to decide how being overweight or eating the incorrect foods impacts you and impacts yourself. If you don't change your lifestyle, you're going to go back to eating that way anyway."

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