Guest Column: Response to article: ‘Support groups on gastric bypass surgery’

In response to the article on “Support groups on gastric bypass surgery,” I’d like to remind your readers that surgery should always be the last resort for any injury, condition, or disease.

Obesity is no exception. It’s a mistake for anyone to abandon, or worse, sidestep the proven behavioral solutions of exercise and a balanced diet. The risks of invasive bariatric surgeries (such as gastric bypass, adjustable gastric banding, duodenal switch, etc.) are substantial.

And their benefits can be achieved with less cost, no risk, and less aggravation, using natural means.

Mortality rates for bariatric surgical procedures can be as high as one in 100, according to estimates by Virginia Commonwealth University. That means that 1,500 of the projected 150,000 Americans that will undergo the procedure this year will die as a result.

The survivors can expect months of difficult recovery, common complications such as vomiting, ulcers, hernias, and internal bleeding, and the surgery’s dirty little secret—the cruel irony of a nightmarishly strict diet for the rest of their lives.

Most patients are restricted from eating certain foods ever again (which vary depending on the person). In addition, patients are often required to take a variety of supplements and medications to combat “predictive malabsorption,” a serious side-effect that stops the body from digesting crucial nutrients.

After gastric bypass, naughty indulgences that contain excess fats and sugars can become life-threatening transgressions because they take up crucial stomach space but have no nutritional value.

Sadly, many of these patients could lose their extra weight without surgery, given a well-designed fitness program that includes diet, exercise, and proven behavior modification techniques.

In more than 20 years of treating obesity, I’ve rarely recommended bariatric surgery, and when I have, it has only been in the very most extreme cases and with great trepidation. Even in the most extreme cases, behavioral therapies can be as effective and rewarding as invasive procedures. And behavioral programs are always more flexible, not to mention safe.

With a well-planned approach, and the help of a medical professional, anyone can lose their excess weight, without losing the freedom of a normal lifestyle.

Dr. Boyd Lyles M.D. is the medical director of the LA Weight Loss Centers and Director of the HeartHealth and Wellness Center, Dallas, Texas.

From the Nov. 9-15, 2005, issue

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