Healthy Children Logo The number of obese teenagers undergoing gastric bypass surgery is apparently increasing particularly among girls. But this surgery seems to be harmful, or at least the following article suggests so. Investigators have discovered a possible association between gastric bypass surgery in adolescent girls and an increased risk for neural tube defects. Such defects may damage the nervous system, in their future children and give rise to disabilities such as paralysis or mental retardation.

Neural tube defects in the brain and spinal cord are believed to occur because of nutritional deficiencies. The case of a young patient who had previously gone through gastric bypass surgery and later became pregnant was analyzed by the authors. Apparently she faced chances of undergoing fetal surgery because her fetus had spina bifida. A literature review claimed to have spanned through six additional documented cases of children born with neural tube defects. These defects were probably the consequence of maternal nutritional deficiencies, especially malabsorption after bypass surgery. It was noted that during malabsorption the body is incapable of absorbing nutrients.

Diana L. Farmer, MD and the senior study author, shared, “We postulate that the malabsorption of folate, poor compliance with nutritional supplements and a higher risk of unintended pregnancies places young women at an increased risk for pregnancies complicated with neural tube defects. Although obesity is epidemic in this country, we believe non-reversible gastric bypass surgery should be avoided in adolescent women given the potential increased risk of fetal neural tube defects. If gastric bypass is performed on an adolescent female, great efforts must be made to minimize the risks of both unintended pregnancies and nutritional deficiencies. This should include extensive pre-surgery counseling and frequent post-operative follow-up, as well as consideration of highly efficacious contraceptives such as an intra-uterine device.”

Experts presume that gastric bypass surgery triggers malabsorption which leads to multiple nutritional deficiencies, including folate (folic acid). It is known that folate is a hallmark in avoiding the occurrence of neural tube defects. Daily folate replacement may reverse this deficiency, many a times medication regimens are not followed by adolescents. Youngsters who have undergone gastric bypass surgery seem to develop heightened chances of unintended pregnancies.

The study was presented on Sunday, October 3, at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco.