Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bone Health, Vitamin D, and Obesity - Again!

Vitamin D deficiency is common with obesity. When vitamin D is deficient, calcium tends to be deficient, too. But the body has a way of keeping the calcium level in the blood looking normal. That is, by raising the level of a hormone called "parathyroid hormone" (has nothing whatsoever to do with thyroid hormone), calcium is actually taken away (say, stolen away) from the bones, to keep its level looking normal in the blood. The bones lose calcium, and become weaker, more fragile and more likely to break. We are talking osteopenia and osteoporosis.

A new study from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, was published recently in the Journal "Obesity Surgery". The study found out that vitamin D deficiency is common in obese patients at the time of bariatric (weight loss) surgery and is also accompanied by an increased level of parathyroid hormone, approximately half the time. So, vitamin D deficiency after bariatric surgery is not purely a complication of bariatric surgery. It is, at least in part, caused by vitamin D deficiency before the surgery itself. To reach those conclusions, the authors did blood tests to measure the levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, iPTH (intact parathyroid hormone), and calcium in 41 patients before undergoing Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. Then, they compared them to healthy non-obese matched controls. About half of the pre-bariatric surgery patients had elevated hyperparathyroid hormone level, compared to only 2% of controls. Levels of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) were significantly low in more than half of the obese patients.

This actually reminds us of a previous study that we reported here. In that study, from Maine, before bariatric surgery, 34% of patients had suboptimal levels, and 54% had deficient levels, of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood. By one year after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, the vitamin D deficiency improved remarkably with the intake of vitamin D supplements. The researchers actually recommended higher-than-average doses of vitamin D supplementation.

Reference Article:

Goldner WS, Stoner JA, Thompson J, Taylor K, Larson L, Erickson J, McBride C. Prevalence of vitamin d insufficiency and deficiency in morbidly obese patients: a comparison with non-obese controls. Obes Surg. 2008 Feb;18(2):145-50. [PMID: 18175194] (Abstract)

More References:

Nelson ML, Bolduc LM, Toder ME, Clough DM, Sullivan SS. Correction of preoperative vitamin D deficiency after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2007 Jul-Aug;3(4):434-7. [PMID: 17400028] (Abstract)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Support Groups - Do They Make A Difference?

A new research from Memphis, TN, published in the journal "Obesity Surgery" provides another evidence that attending support group meetings after bariatric surgery does make a difference. The article's title is "Support Group Meeting Attendance is Associated with Better Weight Loss". Postoperative bariatric patients completed a questionnaire regarding their opinions of support group meetings. Patients who did not attend support group meetings tended to feel that such meetings were not needed after bariatric surgery. Furthermore, patients who did not attend support group meetings tended to feel that they would lose the same amount of weight with or without attending. Despite those feelings, the study found that gastric bypass patients who attended support group meetings had significantly better weight loss than patients who did not attend. Those findings are consistent with those of Song and associates (Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins University). The latter study concluded: "Support groups are important for maintaining weight loss throughout the first year after surgery, especially after 6 months when the rate of weight loss from surgery begins to naturally decline."

This reminds us of the study of Gould and associates, that was reported here, not too long ago, that showed the importance of the follow-up postoperative appointments for long term weight loss.


Orth WS, Madan AK, Taddeucci RJ, Coday M, Tichansky DS. Support Group Meeting Attendance is Associated with Better Weight Loss.Obes Surg. 2008 Feb 20; PMID: 18286346 (Abstract)

Song Z, Reinhardt K, Buzdon M, Liao P. Association between support group attendance and weight loss after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2007 Mar 30; PMID: 17400030 (Abstract)

Gould JC, Beverstein G, Reinhardt S, Garren MJ. Impact of routine and long-term follow-up on weight loss after laparoscopic gastric bypass. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2007 Nov-Dec;3(6):627-30. PMID: 17950045 (Abstract)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Super Size Me - the Swedish Experiment

A research from Linkoping University, Sweden, published in the medical journal "Gut", showed that regular indulging in fast food caused, in less than 4 weeks, a pathologic rise in the level of a liver enzyme, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) in the blood. The fast food experiment subjects aimed for a body weight increase of 5-15% by eating at least two fast food-based meals a day with the goal to double the regular caloric intake in combination with adoption of a sedentary lifestyle for four weeks. They limited their daily exercise to less than 5000 steps for 4 weeks. The authors suggested that an increased flow of monosaccharides to the liver could induce the production of the enzyme in the liver cells. The authors, therefore, recommended that physicians should include not only questions about alcohol intake, but also recent excessive food intake, when evaluating reasons for a new elevation of ALT.

An article in the Guardian gave a little history how the Dr. Fredrik H Nystrom's Swedish experiment design was influenced by Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary "Super Size Me", in which Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month. You may remember that doctors urged him to abandon his experiment after getting the results of blood tests which show that his liver is so badly damaged it looks as though it is the result of heavy drinking. The results of the Swedish study did document liver enzyme test abnormalities, but those were not as dramatic as Spurlock's.

It is actually not necessarily a matter of whether the food is consumed from McDonald's, a family restaurant, or cooked at home. It is not entirely a matter of whether the food is "fast food" or a fully served multi-course meal in a fancy restaurant. The central issue is all about choices. How many calories, how many of those are proteins, how many are from carbs, and how many are from fat. Wherever you eat, you have to make the best choices regarding the portions and the quality of food. Stay healthy!


Fast food based hyper-alimentation can induce rapid and profound elevation of serum alanine aminotransferase in healthy subjects. Stergios Kechagias, Åsa Ernersson, Olof Dahlqvist, Peter Lundberg, Torbjörn Lindström, and Fredrik H Nystrom. Gut 2008 Feb 14; [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 18276725

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Economy of Health and Obesity

You probably heard about this study that was recently reported in the media. The title is: "Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure". The study indicates that it costs more if people live longer, than if they die at an earlier age from obesity. Using a mathematical simulation model, the study concluded that total lifetime health spending was greatest for the healthy-living people, lowest for the smokers, and intermediate for the obese people.

Notice that previous studies have consistently calculated the health expenditure savings resulting from reducing the financial burden caused by treating comorbidities related to obesity. Those studies did not enter in the calculations, the life prolonging effects of treating obesity, and the costs of living longer. Pieter van Baal and colleagues conclude, based on their simulation model, that obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases, but this is offset by cost increases from diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained.

I do not know how to use this information. The study that came from the Netherlands is very objective, and proposes no policy recommendations based on the findings. As a matter of fact, the authors stated that it does not imply that preventing obesity is not worthwhile, since the associated health gain is valuable in itself, for society and the individuals concerned. Furthermore, the article commented that Bonneux et al. (from the Netherlands, as well) made it very clear: “The aim of health care is not to save money but to save people from preventable suffering and death. Any potential savings on health care costs would be icing on the cake.”

I cannot imagine anyone finding it morally attractive or ethical to not prevent or treat obesity and smoking, because of the above findings. Those two particular health problems are not the only ones that can potentially affect the life span. How about stopping being aggressive in preventing or treating heart disease, diabetes, etc. Wouldn't that save dollars, too? Living better, healthier, and hopefully longer, is priceless. Stay Healthy!

The study in focus:

van Baal PHM, Polder JJ, de Wit GA, Hoogenveen RT, Feenstra TL, et al. (2008) Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure. PLoS Med 5(2): e29 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050029 (Full Text)

PLoS Med is the Public Library of Science Medicine


Bonneux L, Barendregt JJ, Nusselder WJ, der Maas PJ. 1998. Preventing fatal diseases increases healthcare costs: cause elimination life table approach. BMJ. 316:26–29. (Full Text)