8 Misconceptions About Weight Loss Surgery That You Probably Still Believe
Let's start with the big one: Weight loss surgery is a cop-out for people with no self control. The truth? Hardly. The regimen after surgery can be grueling; patients must eat several small meals a day and be diligent about taking supplements to balance their diet. They also have to avoid entire food categories (especially junk food), and they have to maintain this diet for the rest of their lives. As you can see, this hardly qualifies as a cop-out. Here are seven other common misconceptions about weight loss surgery.
It's too expensive. Yes, the upfront cost of weight loss surgery is daunting—over $25,000, though more and more insurance companies are paying for the procedure. (Here are more surprising things your health insurance may cover.) They really should: The cost of not treating obesity will be higher over the long term, suggests a large study of health insurance claims published in Surgery for Obesity and Related Disease. Medical expenses dropped dramatically after weight loss surgery—by nearly 40% in 3 years. For patients who were diabetic, the surgery paid for itself within 4 years. The researchers believe health care costs for people who had surgery will continue to decline as the years go by.
It won't help you live any longer.
Actually, reams of research suggest it's one of the smartest health choices an obese person can make. Risk of diabetes plummets. Kidney, liver, and lung function all improve. Blood pressure and blood sugar come under control. For people who've tried diet and exercise with no success, weight loss surgery makes a lot of sense, especially since the techniques are improving all the time. It's now as safe as any type of major surgery, and the results are considered highly effective, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. The fact is, losing weight is almost always healthy, and the massive weight loss associated with weight loss surgery will tack years onto your life, according to research published in JAMA Surgery. The study looked at the mortality of over 15,000 obese people and found that receiving weight loss surgery after the age of 35 drastically reduced the risk of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease. Amazingly, the age group that saw the greatest benefit—a 66% reduction in mortality—was the AARP set, ages 55 to 74.
It's only for adults. Teenagers who undergo weight loss surgery are able to maintain their new weight and see a drop in dangerous blood fats for years following the procedure, according to research published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation. Eight years after surgery, teens shed on average 32% of their body mass; for someone who weighed 200 pounds, that's a 64-pound loss. And nearly two-thirds of the teens with high cholesterol or other blood fats saw their levels drop into the normal category. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics noted another benefit to weight loss surgery for teenagers: The teens were at much lower risk of debilitating hip, knee, foot, and back pain—all conditions that can worsen in adulthood.
You won't be able to have kids. S
Actually, obese women have a higher risk of complicated pregnancies than women who've had the surgery. Gestational diabetes can lead to preeclampsia, birth defects, miscarriage, oversize infants (who often have heart and lung defects), or stillbirth. A Swedish study published in theNew England Journal of Medicine found that women who had weight loss surgery reduced their risk of gestational diabetes by 30% and their risk of having oversize babies by 40%. There is a caveat: The women in the study who had weight loss surgery were slightly more likely to have a stillbirth, but there were so few of these that the increase may have been pure unlucky chance, according to the researchers.
You'll become an alcoholic.
While it's true that a small percentage of patients develop a problem with alcohol, the reality is that it tends to be people who had alcoholic tendencies in their past. (Do you worry you drink too much? Here's how to tell.) That said, patients must be much more careful with their drinking. A study published in JAMA Surgery found that in women who'd had gastric bypass surgery, two drinks produced the same effect as having four drinks did in others. The blood-alcohol content of the bypass patients peaked at 1.10 (compared with just 0.60 in obese women who hadn't had the surgery) in just 5 minutes (compared with 25 minutes in obese women). In other words, within minutes of drinking just half the alcohol, weight loss surgery patients were on the wrong side of the legal driving limit of 0.80. Since the procedure circumvents the stomach, alcohol takes a direct route to your small intestine, where the body metabolizes it much faster. So be wary: Post-surgery, liquor is far quicker.
It will put you at risk for other health problems. Patients do have to watch their nutritional intake much more closely after the procedure, but the risk of side effects is no greater than, say, from having gall bladder surgery. And the surgery definitely lowers your risk of other chronic problems beyond diabetes and heart disease. For example, carrying a lot of extra weight taxes your liver's ability to trap toxins and convert them to waste. That's why obese people often develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which may lead to cirrhosis—scarring of the liver's tissue that can cause failure of the organ. In a study published in Gastroenterology, 85% of patients with the condition who got weight loss surgery were disease-free 1 year post-surgery.
You'll also breathe easier: A Massachusetts General Hospital study of over 2,000 asthmatic weight loss surgery patients found that the likelihood of a severe asthma attack dropped by half in the 2 years following surgery. Shedding significant weight minimizes some of the hallmarks of asthma—inflammation, reflux disease, and obesity-related narrowing of the respiratory passages, according to a study in Thorax.
You'll still have the same risk of weight gain.
Actually, patients gain another big advantage: Their guts get repopulated with healthy bacteria. Having the right kind of bacteria in your intestines will help metabolize fat, boost your immune system, and tamp down inflammation. Swedish researchers have now shown that weight loss surgery causes healthy bacterial changes that last at least a decade, according to a study in Cell Metabolism. They found that intestines in women who had weight loss surgery had been repopulated with bugs that specialize in decreasing the body's fat mass and burning carbohydrates rather than converting them to fat.