Written By: Osheen Abnous, Maria Vardapetyan, Eric Baghdasaryan
Copper is an essential element to all organisms, and it is a contributor in several enzymes vital to the function of hematopoietic, vascular, and skeletal tissues, as well as the structure and function of the nervous system.
As a crucial metal, copper plays an important role in chemical reactions throughout the human body; this includes the central nervous system. Enzymes are substances that facilitate chemical reactions. There are many copper-dependent reactions in the human body. In humans, the major site of absorption of dietary copper is still unclear. Copper in humans is absorbed in the proximal small bowel, duodenum, and ileum. This is after it has passed the acidic environment of the stomach.
Copper deficiency can be caused by malnutrition, prematurity, parenteral or enteral feeding without copper supplementation, gastrectomy, and excessive zinc therapy. The common causes of copper deficiency have been zinc supplementation, and changes to the PH (acidity) of the stomach. This can be the result of the alteration of the stomach anatomy, and by chronic acid suppression by proton pump inhibitors (antacids), and similar medications. Physicians need to be alert with patients who show signs of copper deficiency or are at a high risk of developing a copper deficiency.
It is important to raise greater awareness about copper deficiency because there is a growing number of patients undergoing surgeries for obesity, as the occurrence of copper deficiency will increase in the future.
Studies of patients who have had weight loss surgery in the past experience common symptoms such as pain involving the feet, gait abnormality (unusual walking), lower limb weakness, and recurrent falls. Common lab results include unusually low serum copper and serum ceruloplasmin levels. In some cases, elevated zinc levels are also present. Treatment includes cupric sulfate infusion until normal copper levels are reached, which then need to be maintained for the future. Vitamin B-12 deficiency has also been reported as a possible cause of myelopathy, which is a nervous system disorder that affects the spinal cord. As stated earlier, neurological damages are often irreversible and cause permanent damage to patients. Early diagnosis from physicians is crucial for patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery, and the sooner they are diagnosed, the less permanent damage the patient will endure.
A 49-year-old woman had gastric bypass surgery for obesity 24 years age. She presetend with increasing lower limb stiffness and numbness. Additionally she reported tingling of the feet. As her pain continued to increase, she began using a walker, and her symptoms continued to worsen. After undergoing a neurological examination, results showed that the patient had increased lower limb tone and an absent perception of vibration at the toes and ankles. Laboratory results showed that the patient had copper levels barely detectable. This included serum copper and serum ceruloplasmin levels. In addition, the patient had reduced serum carotene (vitamin A) levels.
The patient received cupric sulfate intravenously daily through an 8-week period. After each daily infusion of cupric sulfate, the patient reported to have slight decreases in numbness and an increased tingling sensation. After the 8-week period, lab results showed that serum copper levels were normal and are needed to be maintained. Her night blindness was corrected by vitamin A injections.
In another case, a 53-year-old woman had symptoms of abnormal gait (abnormal walking) and anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells), and was seen for evaluation. The patient complained of pain in the lower legs, which would worsen over time and move up towards her thighs. As her ability to walk continued to worsen, the patient resorted to using a wheelchair. Her medical history consisted of an RYGB surgery for obesity. The only significant supplementation she received was 1000 μg vitamin B12 subcutaneously for several years. She had absent positional and vibratory sensation in the lower extremities to the knee. In addition, touch sensation was decreased. Laboratory examination revealed an elevated serum zinc level, and extremely low serum copper and ceruloplasmin levels.
For treatment, the patient received intravenous copper over a 6-day period, was discharged home, and then received weekly intravenous copper infusions thereafter. After a month of receiving intravenous copper, serum copper levels returned to normal. In addition, the patient’s pain in the lower leg improved, but vibratory sensation remained absent in the same area. Four months after being discharged from the hospital, the patient began walking with a cane.
Weight loss surgical procedures, in one form or another, achieve the desired effect of weight loss by altering absorption of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. This results in decreased total absorption of required calories.
An unintended consequence is the altered absorption of medications. Frequently I am asked about the specific medication. Usually the answer is vague since the information is limited on specific medications. If the desired effect is not achieved, then it is probably not being absorbed well. Specially, if the same dose of the same medication working well before surgery.
There is a summary article about the Theoretical absorption pattern of different weight loss surgical procedures.
In 2015, I came into contact with the most unique, passionate, urgently responsive; talented beyond belief and caring surgeon I have ever met. Our oldest son who is a 21-year-old cancer survivor, has had nearly five years of medical nightmare as diagnosed with severe gastroparesis resultant from his vagal nerve being severed during a previous Nissen Fundoplication surgery. We didn’t find out that this had happened until nearly two years later and only after a 4 hour gastric emptying test showed that Cameron’s stomach was only about 30% emptied after four hours (should be empty after an hour) due to gastroparesis.
I had heard about Dr. Keshishian on a Bariatric support group page on which I post and get great advice. The surgeon back in Central, IL where we live told us that Cameron needed a subtotal gastrectomy to remove 80% of his stomach! This sounded radical and no way in the world was that going to happen. I was given Dr. Keshishian’s email address so I could consult with him for his advice. It was a Saturday morning around 7 AM Central time when I sent off an email to Dr. Keshishian detailing Cameron’s medical history and current issues. I was in hoping that his office would get the email on Monday and hopefully get back to me within a week. I went out to my kitchen to get a cup of coffee and when I returned I had a missed call with a California area code. Yep, it was Dr. Keshishian. I called back and we talked for 45 minutes. He suggested several things and told me that any good general surgeon in my area could do surgery on Cameron and fix him, well that was the only time he was wrong. We couldn’t find anyone in our area who would do the surgery.
So we talked and agreed that Cameron needed a Roux-en Y drain put in place to physically drain his stomach by way of gravity (not for any weight loss as very little small bowel was bypassed). Dr. Keshishian got us in the next week and we flew out to Glendale where he met with Cameron for an examination on that Monday. On Tuesday, Dr. Keshishian performed surgery to fix Cameron’s herniated diaphragm, loose Nissen wrap, performed the Roux-n Y limb and anastomosis to the stomach. Dr. Keshishian also found a Meckel’s diverticulum (a congenital small bowel defect that can cause internal bleeding and serious issues). The following Sunday, Cameron developed severe pain due to chronic pain from his Cancer treatment and 12 subsequent surgeries, many on his abdomen. Dr. Keshishian saw Cameron in the ER and spent 3 hours fixing Cameron’s pain issue and making sure he was medically sound so we could fly home the next day.
Today, Cameron has very little to no issues which you wouldn’t have believed possible six months earlier. In the past, he had violent retching, dry heaving and bad nausea daily which had him severely incapacitated and very depressed due to a feeling of hopelessness and pain from the Gastroparesis. He didn’t believe he had a chance at a normal life but Dr. Keshishian gave Cameron his life back. We are eternally grateful for your huge heart and talent Dr. Keshishian. Thank you!
During our time in Glendale in 2015 for Cameron’s surgery Dr. Keshishian and I began discussing my situation. I had been given a virgin Duodenal Switch performed by a surgeon in Illinois in September of 2013. A year later in 2014 and 180 lbs lighter, I ended up in the hospital as I was passing out. I had a resting heart rate of 35 BPM, a blood pressure in the 75/40 range and incredibly bad labs including anemia, low copper, low zinc, and dangerously low albumin and total protein. A full cardiac work up was completed and I spent a week in intermediate care. Why? I was extremely malnourished even though I was consuming 200-250 grams of protein daily! Why was I malnourished? Because my original surgeon performed a “cookie cutter DS” on me where he didn’t measure my small bowel and arbitrarily gave this 6’2 man a 100 cm common channel and a 150 cm Alimentary limb. Way too short on the AL! Had the Hess method been followed (the only way the DS should be allowed to be completed) my CC would have been 100 cm (that was okay) but my Alimentary channel should have been 275 cm! Simply put, my absorbing portion of small bowel was 34% and the Biliopancreatic limb (non-absorbing) was 66%. It should have been a 50/50 ratio with 100 cm CC, 275 cm AL and a 375 cm BPL. In order to combat my severe malnutrition that September of 2014 I went on a pancreatic enzyme (CREON) to assist my nutrient absorption. I was taking with meals right around 400,000 IU’s of CREON (a boat load) and this was barely keeping my nutrients in range and lab values barely in range. After speaking with Dr. Keshishian, he recommended that I give it until around September of 2015 to see if my absorption increased enough to where a revision wouldn’t be required. Towards the end of July, I all of the sudden lost nearly 20 pounds in two weeks from my already frail and scrawny body. I saw my surgeon in Peoria as I was very alarmed; and I had been having bad cramping and other issues point to a possible bowel obstruction His exact words to me were “see me in 30 days, you are like the DS poster boy of good nutrition”. As you can imagine I found that completely unacceptable and soon as I was out of that appointment I emailed Dr. Keshishian. He told me that if I couldn’t get a revision ASAP I would need to immediately go on TPN. Two weeks later my wife and I landed at LAX and were in Glendale on Monday morning for an exam with Dr. Keshishian.
The job Dr. Keshishian did describing what he was going to do, and of course this was a visual presentation with Dr. Keshishian drawing (you know Dr K’s love of drawing) out for us what he was going to do. He thoroughly explained for my wife and I so she was comfortable with what was going to happen and we fully understood what he was going to do. Doc also found an umbilical hernia that he was going to repair and I had an anal fissure as well that wouldn’t heal so we discussed what he would do to examine and possibly fix during my revision surgery. The next day Dr. Keshishian performed surgery where he fixed the umbilical hernia, measured my total small bowel length to determine appropriate channel lengths and found an repaired a huge mesenteric defect (intestinal hernia and Dr K has a picture of my guts with the huge hole in the mesentery that he has posted on his blog discussing intestinal hernias and blockages), fixed my fissure (Thank you!) and put in a side by side anastomosis that effectively lengthened my AL by 125 cm and my CC by 25 cm worth of absorption. This put my absorbing intestine to BPL ratio where it should have been in the first place (50/50 ratio).
I am pleased to say that I immediately went off the CREON and my absorption and subsequently my lab values improved tremendously. At surgery on August 18, 2015 I weighed a whopping 170 lbs. Today I am weighing in at 183 pounds and well on my way to Dr. Keshishian’s suggested optimal weight target of 205.
Dr. Keshishian is absolutely amazing and the best in the world when it comes to performing the Duodenal Switch and revision to DS Surgery (Band to DS, RnY to DS, Channel extending revision to DS). I would recommend Dr. Keshishian to any patient who needs a virgin Duodenal Switch to get their health back and especially to those who were sold a garbage RnY or Crapband procedure that ultimately failed you (it failed you, you did not fail). In fact, I am trying very hard to convince my brother and Step Mother to fly to Glendale and have Dr. Keshishian perform a Duodenal Switch on them. They very much need it for their health and Dr. Keshishian is the best in the world having performed over 2,000 DS procedures.
I don’t say this lightly. Ara, you are one of the finest human beings I have ever had the good fortune of knowing and your surgical skills are second to none. I really do admire and love this gentleman like a brother and consider him to be a friend. Thank you for using your incredible skill to fix my health issues resultant from the failed cookie cutter Duodenal Switch I was given two years earlier by another surgeon. Had I met you back then and knew what I know now, you would have performed my virgin DS and I would not have suffered for two plus years. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Dr. K!
Malnutrition is one of the most feared complication of the duodenal switch operation. It may present years after surgery. What is common is a mix of nutritional deficiencies which include fat soluble vitamins, and protein calorie malnutrition. These all point to possible excessive shortening of the common channel. In my practice we have seen patients that have had lengthening of their common channel to improve their metabolic picture. What is very obvious to us, is that we see disproportionately higher number of cases coming to us for revision from practices where the common and alimentary lengths are done as a “standard” numbers with no specific adjustments made for the patient, their anatomy and situation. I have said for years, that the length of the bowel that is measured to be become the common and the alimentary limb should be a percentage of the total length of small bowel, rather than a pre-determined measurement. Here is a visual description of how this works.
If a common channel and the alimentary limb is measured to be a percent of the total length then the chance of protein calorie malnutrition is minimized since this will take into account the bowels absorptive capacity which is being reduced. This decrease in the absorption is done as a fraction of the total length.
Raines et al. published a study in 2014, that showed how small bowel length is related more closely to a patient’s height and not weight. And yet, some surgeons totally based the length of the common channel and the alimentary limb arbitrarily based on the patient pre operative BMI and nothing else. Could this be the cause of why I see some patients coming to us for revision of their duodenal switch for malnutrition?