Weight Loss Surgery May Add Years to Life
There's no doubt that stomach-stapling surgery leads to
dramatic weight loss. But new research shows that the
procedure might also add years to life.
As the number of obese people in the U.S. has soared, so has
the popularity of the surgery. In fact, East Carolina
University researchers estimated that the number of people
undergoing weight-loss surgery increased from 40,000 in 2001
to 86,000 this year and will reach 140,000 next year.
Past research has shown that gastric bypass improves
diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diseases related to
excess fat. But the effect on a person's life span has been
unknown, until now
To answer that question, researchers at New Hampshire's
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center first looked at data from
previous research that showed how much a weight an average
person loses after having the surgery. Then they looked at
the average life expectancies of people at various heights
and weights. In this way, they could estimate how much the
change in weight caused by surgery would affect patients'
The results suggest that most people eligible for the
surgery would benefit, says lead researcher G. Darby Pope,
MD, surgery resident at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. "By undergoing
the surgery, they will gain life years," he said. Pope
presented the study this week at a meeting of the American
College of Surgeons in San Francisco.
People with a BMI, a measure of obesity that takes both
height and weight into account, over 25 are considered
overweight. But according to U.S. government guidelines,
patients should have a BMI of at least 40, or a BMI of 35
with a related serious disease, to be eligible for gastric
bypass surgery. Most such patients are more than 100 pounds
The results varied according to the patients' age, gender,
and body mass index (BMI). According to the researchers, a
woman with a BMI of 45 at age 40 would gain three years of
life. A man of similar age and size could expect to gain 3.9
These results are better than those obtained by heart
disease surgery, Pope said. But he cautioned that no one
should interpret these findings literally. The actual
effects of the gastric bypass surgery will vary a lot from
one individual to another.
Questions about the benefits of gastric bypass surgery will
be answered with more certainty by studies now under way on
large groups of patients, Pope says.
The surgery is getting more popular not only because more
people are obese, but also because surgeons have improved
their techniques. In earlier weight-loss surgery, doctors
routed the digestive track past much of the intestines,
resulting in malnutrition.
In the kind of surgery in the Dartmouth-Hitchcock study,
most of the stomach is stapled shut so that food can only
enter a small pouch at the top. A branch of the intestines
is connected to this pouch. (The unused part of the stomach
is connected to this branch downstream in order to drain its
Patients vomit if they overeat, but feel full with much less
food. Typically, they lose about three-quarters of their
excess weight in the first year, then gradually gain some
back. After ten years or more, most carry about half the
excess weight they had before the surgery, says Pope.
Patients must take nutritional supplements for the rest of
their lives, and there is a chance of dying from
complications of the surgery. But Pope and his colleagues
took this risk of complications into account in their study
and the results suggest that the risk of death from the
procedure are much less than the risk of death from obesity.
The main problem with this type of surgery is it is only a
short-term solution. Usually overweight people have poor
eating habits and do not exercise. Having surgery does not
correct either. It is vital to have a change of lifestyle to
undergo healthy weight loss. Without the change, the body
remains in an unhealthy state.
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About The Author
Michael Lewis has been collecting articles and information
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