Richard G. Petty, MD

Neurological Complications of Gastric Bypass Surgery

Our bodies are highly complex systems. They are not just bags of randomly assorted organs. So tinkering with one part of the system can have an impact in an entirely different part of the body. Many of us have worried for some time about the long-term consequences of gastric bypass surgery for weight loss. We know that some people who have had the surgery develop “substitution addictions.” If they had a real addiction to food before the surgery, after it they may begin to develop an addiction to something else, such as drugs or alcohol.

Now neurologists at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock have reported the results of a ten-year study found a link between gastric bypass surgery and several serious neurological conditions.

The study was published online May 22 in the medical journal Neurology and concludes that patients who undergo gastric bypass surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, are at risk for long-term vitamin and mineral deficiencies and as a result may develop a variety of neurological symptoms.

We know that ever more of these operations are being done every year, and so long as people are motivated they are usually successful in reducing weight. But they are not without risk, and we always have to balance that risk against the risk of being morbidly obese. This work is important because it suggests that there is an extra risk about which we previously knew very little. Many of the complications that patients experience affect the nervous system, and they are often disabling and irreversible.

More than 150 patients who came to the UAMS Neurology Clinic following gastric bypass were included in the report. In 26 of these patients a link between the surgery and their neurological condition was found.

All of the patients involved in the study had previously undergone what is known as the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure in which a small stomach pouch is created by stapling part of the stomach together and bypassing part of the small bowel, resulting in reduced food intake and a decreased ability to absorb the nutrients in food. The interval between surgery and onset of neurological symptoms ranged from 4 weeks to 18 years.

The neurological problems involved many different parts of the nervous system, and the symptoms included confusion, auditory hallucinations, optic neuropathy, weakness and loss of sensation in the legs, and pain in the feet, among other conditions. None of the patients had prior neurological symptoms.

Many of the patients also experienced multiple nutritional abnormalities, especially low serum copper, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron and calcium.

This study underlines something very important. Many heavy people are actually malnourished, because they eat the wrong things and an excess of fat in the diet can create problems in the absorption of some vitamins and minerals. In addition, surgery like this can cause a form of malabsorption.

It is therefore essential to make sure that people who have this kind of surgery have an adequate long-term intake of vitamin and mineral supplements to prevent these neurological complications. It is important for everyone to know about these potential problems and to be on the lookout for neurological symptoms.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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