Friday, May 9, 2008

Vagotomy: Doctors studying safer alternative to gastric bypass surgery

Seattle, WA
More than 177,000 Americans had weight loss surgery in 2006. This can mean massive weight loss, but the surgery doesn't come without risks. Now, there's an investigational approach that's helping patients shed pounds a whole lot safer.

Losing weight was never easy for Garth Michaels.

"I've felt fat all my life, really," he said.

Michaels reached 320 pounds.

"I really was just up against a wall," he said. "I was praying daily. I didn't know where to turn."

Then, he found Dr. Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist at the University of California-San Francisco.

"Everyone in the world seems to think that obesity is just one problem," said Lustig. "You eat too much, exercise too little and it couldn't be further from the truth."

Lustig says the vagus nerve plays a big role in obesity.

"Every single thing the vagus nerve does is designed to get energy into your fat cells," said Lustig.

He's testing a new surgery called laparoscopic vagotomy, where he actually cuts the vagus nerve.

"The severe hunger that many obese patients report seems to be just completely obviated. It goes away completely," said Lustig.

So far, the 20 minute procedure is resulting in an average 18 percent excess weight lost.

"The weight loss that the patients have achieved appears to be durable and we're very happy about that," said Lustig.

Michaels has lost more than 100 pounds since having the procedure nearly two years ago.

"Definitely life-saving," said Michaels. "I think I added at least 10 to 20 years to my lifeā€¦ It's a whole new life, a whole new lease on life and at age 56. That's pretty good."

And after a lifetime of big clothes, Michaels is proud to finally shed that image.

Compared to gastric bypass surgery, this procedure is about one-fifth the cost, has fewer side effects, but patients will not lose as much weight. This technique is still being studied and not yet widely available.

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