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Study Shows Patients Who Have Weight Loss Surgery May Need to Drink Carefully

June 14, 2007 -- Patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery to lose weight already know they have to watch how much they eat after the operation to keep that weight off. Now, a new study suggests they better keep a close eye on their alcohol intake, too.

After the surgery, patients get tipsier faster and take longer to sober up, says study researcher John M. Morton, MD, MPH, the director of bariatric surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"One drink could be enough to place them at risk for a DUI," Morton tells WebMD.

The new study supports what gastric bypass surgeons have long suspected, says Morton, who is presenting the findings this week at the 24th annual meeting of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery in San Diego.

What Triggered the Study?

"We anecdotally know that patients have an altered sense of alcohol [after the surgery]," Morton says. "It affects them quickly. My patients often say, 'I get tipsy more easily' or 'I'm a cheap date now.'"

In late 2006, the Oprah Winfrey show aired a segment titled "Suddenly Skinny," which discussed the reactions gastric bypass patients can have to alcohol, including some who began to binge drink, in effect trading a food addiction for an alcohol addiction. Morton says he got numerous calls from his concerned patients.

So Morton's team of researchers decided to see if science supports the anecdotal observations that gastric bypass patients can't hold their liquor as well as before.

The Study

The researchers compared the effects of drinking a 5-ounce glass of red wine on 19 gastric bypass patients (whose weight had stabilized after the surgery) and 17 people who had not had the surgery. The surgery patients' average age was 47; the average age of the nonsurgery group was 37. The average weight of the surgery group was 200 pounds; the average weight of the nonsurgery group was 149. The bypass patients had gone, on average, from a body mass index or BMI of 51 to 33 (still considered obese).

Everyone was instructed to drink the wine within 15 minutes, and then Morton's team measured the participants' breath alcohol levels every five minutes until the levels returned to zero. The researchers measured how long it took each person after finishing the drink to reach peak breath alcohol levels, which Morton says correlate with blood alcohol levels, and how long it took for the breath alcohol levels to return to zero.

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