Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.
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, an investigational approach is 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.
He topped out at 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.
"Everyone in the world seems to think that obesity is one problem, you know, you eat too much, exercise too little and it couldn't be further from the truth," said Dr. Lustig, an endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Lustig says the vagus nerve, which tells the brain when the body's full, plays a big part in obesity.
"Every single thing the vagus nerve does is designed to get energy into your fat cells," Dr. Lustig said.
He's testing an easy-on-the patient surgery called a laparoscopic vagotomy, in which he actually cuts the vagus nerve.
"The severe hunger that many obese patients report seems to be just completely obviated," he said. "It goes away completely."
An early study shows the 20-minute procedure led to 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," Dr. Lustig said.
Michaels lost more than 100 pounds since having the procedure nearly two years ago.
"Definitely life-saving," he said. "I think I added at least 10 to 20 years to my life. 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.
Not only does the procedure have fewer side effects than gastric bypass, but it's cheaper, too. Bypass surgery costs between $25,000 and $50,000, while this new procedure would cost between $5,000 and $10,000. The procedure does not cause the massive weight loss patients report after gastric bypass, but Dr. Lustig says it typically does cause more weight loss than weight-loss drugs. The technique is still being studied and not yet widely available.
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University of California, San Francisco