Bariatric Surgery Could Negatively Impact Bone Health

Gastric bypass surgery can lead to bone loss even two years post-opBariatric surgery has long been proven as an effective treatment to drastically improve quality of life for morbidly obese patients and address serious health issues, such as type II diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. However, weight loss surgery is not without its risks, both during and after the procedure. Now, a new study shows that serious bone loss can occur as a result of gastric bypass surgery, which can cause other health concerns if not properly treated.

According to the study presented in Chicago at a joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society: ICE/ENDO 2014, bone loss following a gastric bypass procedure increases the risk of a fracture or break. The study also suggests the loss of bone mineral density even after a stable weight is maintained.

Researchers note that bone deterioration likely is caused by the surgery and not the weight loss itself. Researchers used three-dimensional computed tomography (CT), called quantitative CT, to compared bone density at the lower spine and the hip in 50 very obese adults with similar baseline age, gender and BMI. Of the participants, 30 had bariatric surgery, while 20 lost weight through diet and exercise. Two years following surgery, bone density for gastric bypass patients had decreased an average of 5 to 7 percent at the spine and 7 to 10 percent at the hip compared to the non-surgical group. Bariatric patients also had indicators of bone resorbtion, the process of breaking down old bone. Researchers are in the process of determining the cause of bone loss in these patients. Doctors speculate that extreme changes in gastrointestinal and fat hormones could affect bone density.

The latest findings confirm the results of a 2009 study that found weight loss surgery causes bone loss in post-op patients. Lead researcher Elaine Yu, MD, MSc, an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, recommends monitoring the bone health of patients undergoing gastric bypass surgery. With regular monitoring and strengthening supplements, the severity of bone loss can be managed. Although bone loss needs to be carefully considered and retained, many experts argue that the health benefits and often lifesaving effects of gastric bypass surgery are well worth the risk. 

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