Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Weight Loss Surgery - A Dangerous Quick-Fix Solution

There are only two reasons I can think of that account for the huge success of weight-loss surgery in the United States - the Western world's obsession with quick-fix solutions due to an unwillingness to adopt an approach that requires an iota of effort, and the mind-boggling profits that surgeons make promoting this barbaric practice. Yet here are the cold, hard facts:

Mortality Rate: Roughly 1-3 percent of individuals undergoing weight-loss surgery die within a few years after the procedure.

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Additional Surgery: As many as 22 percent patients suffer complications post-surgery while still in hospital; 40 percent report complications within the first six months of surgery; and 20 percent need additional follow-up surgery to fix the complications due to the surgery.

'Too Successful': 30 percent of patients develop nutritional deficiencies such as anemia and osteoporosis. Sometimes, the surgery is so 'successful' that patients suffer, and even perish from, severe malnutrition

Failure Rate: If you don't die of it or fall seriously ill, you are likely to be back where you started. That is because 25 percent of individuals who undergo weight-reduction procedures do not lose the weight they expected to shed. This could either be because the surgery itself was unsuccessful or the patient failed to maintain the prescribed diet post-surgery.

'Bariatric surgery' is a term used to describe several procedures that surgically remove large sections of the digestive tract to essentially reduce the intake of food. It works on two simple, if savage, principles: forcibly reduce appetite and food intake to drastically cut down on the calories you ingest, and restrict the ability of the now-brutalized digestive tract to absorb nutrients from food. For many morbidly obese individuals, surgery is the last resort, after numerous attempts at dieting, exercising and pharmaceutical drugs fail to work. Desperate to lead normal lives, patients consent to going under the knife, allowing a doctor to reach into their abdomen and rip out vital organs, and twist, turn, staple and stitch together what is left inside into an unnatural mess.

In other words, some obese individuals - at least 200,000 a year in the US - are making a conscious choice to be severely crippled and maimed. If these sound like harsh words, I am not exaggerating.

Being morbidly obese can be life-threatening and there is a host of health issues associated with the condition. This apart from the socially and personally challenging nature of the disease. But before we discuss alternative ways to approach this issue, let us take a brief look at why weight-reduction surgery appears to work.

There are numerous variations that go by different names such as gastric bypass surgery, biliopancreatic diversion, duodenal switch, stomach stapling, vertical banded gastroplasty and sleeve gastrectomy.

Another option, still being tested in Europe, is the 'gastric pacer', which is implanted on the surface of the stomach, in much the same way as a pacemaker is implanted in the heart. This gadget connects with your nervous system and connects to the brain to mimic the feeling of satiety. On other words, it makes you feel full even when you are not eating.

Contrast this with the complicated process of energy homeostasis that doctors are still unable to fully understand. The processes of energy regulation are dominated by two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which work through a complicated series of pathways controlled by the hypothalamus. Despite decades of research, scientists are yet to uncover the exact mechanisms by which these hormones work, the neurotransmitters involved and neural pathways that relay the messages of satiety and hunger. Several pharmaceutical drugs have also tried to tinker with this delicate balance and have failed. Now here's an electrical gadget that purports to alter a process that nature is yet to reveal to medical science!

Strip away the fancy medical jargon of weight-loss surgery and what you are left with is a stomach that is reduced to around 15 percent of its original size, a small intestine (the seat of digestion and immunity) that has had essential segments like the duodenum removed. Not only is your food intake drastically reduced, but what is left of your digestive tract is also unable to effectively process, metabolize and absorb what does go into it. Weight-loss surgery therefore radically alters your body's biochemistry and metabolism in a way that nature never intended.

Not surprisingly, nature will revolt. Though bariatric surgery is reported to bring about dramatic results - a reduction by as much as half or more of body weight - it is also associated with dangerous medical complications.

Remember, weight-loss surgery is irreversible. You simply cannot re-attach a part of the small intestine that has been so nonchalantly snipped off or expect a portion of your stomach, rendered redundant for several months, to start working again.

Weight Loss Surgery - A Dangerous Quick-Fix Solution

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