Health & Medicine

Weight-loss surgery helps even the genetic playing field

Dr. Paige Nealy Quintero, a bariatric surgeon with Baptist Health Medical Group Bariatric Surgery, practices at Baptist Health Lexington and Baptist Health Richmond.
Dr. Paige Nealy Quintero, a bariatric surgeon with Baptist Health Medical Group Bariatric Surgery, practices at Baptist Health Lexington and Baptist Health Richmond.

So many of us in America have struggled with our weight. Whether it’s those 30 pounds of baby weight that have stubbornly hung around long after the baby was born or the 50 pounds gained after a back injury, weight gain is for many a cross to bear and a sensitive subject.

Research has estimated that genetics determines at least 40 to 50 percent of our weight. The specific genes are not well understood, but I hypothesize that they might have to do with how people perceive food, when they feel full, and if they turn to emotional eating.

How can one overcome genetics? If everyone in my family is heavy, isn’t it a foregone conclusion that I will be heavy also? I hear these concerns often in my office. The good news is we can overcome genetics with weight-loss surgery.

The most popular weight loss procedure in the United States is the laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. The surgery is minimally invasive, lasts about an hour and requires an overnight stay in the hospital for most patients. The stomach, which regularly can hold about the volume of a football, is stapled and divided so that it is the shape and size of a banana.

Weight loss is achieved because the patient can no longer eat a large volume of food, and calories are proportionately decreased. The pylorus, the muscular valve at the outlet of the stomach, is left intact in this surgery. This is another reason “sleeve” patients stay full.

Besides the mechanic effects of the procedure on restricting food volume, there is increasing evidence that the mechanisms in the brain that cause hunger are permanently modified by the sleeve gastrectomy. People state that they no longer feel hungry and no longer crave some of the high-calorie foods they used to.

Weight-loss surgery is a powerful tool in the hands of the patient. I like to tell patients that it evens the genetic playing field. But we can never forget that a tool that is not wielded will never accomplish anything.

Will a push-mower mow the lawn without a human being exerting effort to push it? No. In the same way, the sleeve gastrectomy requires commitment to healthy food choices and exercise on the part of the patient. The exciting news is that those of us struggling with obesity are not doomed to a life of aches and pains, poor health and a miserable quality of life. There is help, and there is hope.

Dr. Paige Nealy Quintero, a bariatric surgeon with Baptist Health Medical Group Bariatric Surgery, practices at Baptist Health Lexington and Baptist Health Richmond.

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