“Bariatric surgery is probably the most effective intervention we have in health care,” says Laurie K. Twells, a clinical epidemiologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She bases this bold claim on her experience with seriously obese patients and a detailed analysis of the best studies yet done showing weight-loss surgery’s ability to reverse the often devastating effects of being extremely overweight on health and quality of life.
“I haven’t come across a patient yet who wouldn’t recommend it,” Dr. Twells said in an interview. “Most say they wish they’d done it 10 years sooner.” She explained that the overwhelming majority of patients who undergo bariatric surgery have spent many years trying — and failing — to lose weight and keep it off. And the reason is not a lack of willpower.
“These patients have lost hundreds of pounds over and over again,” Dr. Twells said. “The weight that it takes them one year to lose is typically back in two months,” often because a body with longstanding obesity defends itself against weight loss by drastically reducing its metabolic rate, an effect not seen after bariatric surgery, which permanently changes the contours of the digestive tract.
In reviewing studies that followed patients for five to 25 years after weight-loss surgery, Dr. Twells and colleagues found major long-lasting benefits to the patients’ health and quality of life. Matched with comparable patients who did not have surgery, those who did fared much better physically, emotionally and socially. They rated themselves as healthier and were less likely to report problems with mobility, pain, daily activities, social interactions and feelings of depression and anxiety, among other factors that can compromise well-being.
Equally important are the undeniable medical benefits of surgically induced weight loss. They include normalizing blood sugar, blood pressure and blood lipid levels and curing sleep apnea. Although bariatric surgery cannot cure Type 2 diabetes, it nearly always puts the disease into remission and slows or prevents the life-threatening damage it can cause to the heart and blood vessels.
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