Gastric Bypass Patients Take Longer to Process Alcohol, Study Finds

They should not drink and drive, experts say

WEDNESDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- Gastric bypass patients take longer to process alcohol, which could put some at risk for overdrinking, researchers report.

Gastric bypass surgery -- an operation in which the surgeon staples a large section of the stomach, leaving only a tiny pouch -- is used to help severely obese people lose weight.

This study of 19 people who had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB) found that they had a much higher breath alcohol content after consuming alcohol and took much longer to become sober after drinking, compared to before their surgery.

Before the operation, the patients' peak breath alcohol content percentage just after drinking five ounces of red wine was 0.024 percent. The level was 0.059 three months after surgery and 0.088 six months after surgery, which is higher than the legal driving limit of .08 percent.

Prior to surgery, it took 49 minutes for the patients to reach a zero breath alcohol content after drinking five ounces of red wine. The return to zero BAC took 61 minutes three months after surgery and 88 minutes six months after surgery.

The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Despite the benefits of the procedure, "we want to raise the potential concern for RYGB patients who continue to drink after their operation because they may tend to overuse alcohol, which can, in turn, lead to weight regain, nutritional deficiencies, and/or alcohol dependence," senior author Dr. John M. Morton, an associate professor of surgery at Stanford University, said in a journal news release.

Gastric bypass patients "need to understand that their body will respond to alcohol differently after their operation and they need to exercise caution if they choose to drink alcohol," Morton said. "Our recommendation to all of our RYGB patients is never drink and drive, and [if they are drinking], to limit consumption of alcohol to one standard drink (one 12-oz beer, 5-oz wine, or 2-oz liquor) for every two hours. The key to safeguarding bariatric surgery benefits is to provide appropriate patient education."

The U.S. government recommends that drinking in all adults be limited to one standard alcoholic drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases has more about bariatric surgery.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Surgeons, news release, March 10, 2011

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