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Is Metabolic Surgery Safe for Seniors?

By Kent Sasse January 28, 2021 Health and Fitness

You have undoubtedly heard of metabolic surgery, but it might be more familiar to you under another name: bariatric surgery or weight-loss surgery. All three refer to the surgical procedures that have evolved over the last 75 years or so, aimed at treating excess body weight and type two diabetes.

The instances of both obesity and type two diabetes increase with age, but is metabolic surgery safe for seniors?

Science Says Yes

The answer might surprise you, but the resounding response from wide-ranging studies is yes. In fact, the surgery in its modern form today is considered by medical societies around the globe to provide a large risk reduction for seniors.

It lowers risks of blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, and death by a substantial amount. But how exactly does surgery reduce one’s risk?

The main reason is that modern metabolic surgery is quite successful at changing the internal metabolism, hormones, and the body’s biochemistry, which leads to significant loss of weight and reversal of type two diabetes.

Each of these results means a lot less strain on the heart, kidneys, and other organs of the body, resulting in fewer heart attacks and lower risks across the board. The other development in recent decades is the improved safety and simplicity of the metabolic surgical procedure.

Today, the primary procedure performed in the United States and around the globe takes about 45 minutes, uses four small Band-Aids, and is statistically safer than a C-section or a gallbladder removal.

The most widely performed procedure goes by the name laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. It involves trimming off the outer portion of the stomach tissue, a specialized tissue rich in the production of those key hormones. The result is a “re-set” of metabolism, body weight, and blood sugar.

Sleeve gastrectomy does not involve placing any sort of device in the body, and it is a good deal simpler than the previously most popular gastric bypass, and hence safer and less invasive. Most people stay overnight for observation after the brief procedure and recover and resume work within two weeks.

Guidelines Now Recommend Metabolic Surgery

Although metabolic surgery has evolved and improved over the past 75 years, the last 10 to 15 years have seen an explosion of scientific discovery about the biochemical workings of the stomach in regulating body weight and blood sugar.

While a person feels fuller faster and reports a lot less hunger on average, the real magic happens behind the scenes at the level of our cells that begin burning fat instead of storing it. Published studies from large U.S. databases demonstrate sleeve gastrectomy to be both safe and effective for seniors.

More than 53 leading endocrinology societies around the world now recommend metabolic surgery as a primary treatment for type two diabetes.

The surgery causes an immediate and lasting change in the important regulatory hormones that control blood sugar. The result is complete remission of diabetes for most people and significant improvement for everyone else.

Because the surgery produces a direct change in the regulatory biochemistry, an important amount of lipids – the triglycerides – drop right away along with blood sugar before the person has even lost a pound.

The result is a lowered risk of the progression of diabetes to serious health conditions like kidney failure, blindness, heart attack, or amputation.

Next Steps

Increasingly, seniors are being advised to consider metabolic surgery by their primary care doctors. In past years, this would have been surprising advice because it seemed like something that was focused on weight loss was probably meant for younger people.

Today, large studies confirm that the hormonal effects of the less invasive metabolic procedures we now perform routinely confer big health improvements for seniors.

Additionally, due to its exceptional safety record, Medicare no longer considers any upper age limit restriction for metabolic surgery. In fact, the procedure is widely covered.

Do not make the mistake of assuming you are too old for metabolic surgery. Current guidelines no longer recommend seniors stay content with treating their diabetes with shots and pills.

Peer-reviewed studies of diet plans to treat obesity show little or no success. If you are struggling with excess weight or living with type two diabetes, it is worth learning more about your options. You may be surprised to learn how receptive doctors are today about metabolic surgery.

What do you know about metabolic surgery? Has your doctor recommended it to you as possible treatment option for type two diabetes? If you suffer from this condition, would you consider metabolic surgery? Please share your thoughts with the community.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.

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The Author

Dr. Kent Sasse, an Alpha Omega Alpha top medical school graduate of UCSF, earned fellowship at the prestigious Lahey Clinic in Boston and published research on pelvic floor therapy and metabolic surgery. He founded and directs The Continence Center and the nationally accredited Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery program in Reno, Nevada. His most recent book is Outpatient Weight-Loss Surgery.

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