Skeletal effects of bariatric surgery: examining bone loss, potential mechanisms and clinical relevance

Diabetes Obes Metab. 2014 Dec;16(12):1204-13. doi: 10.1111/dom.12363. Epub 2014 Sep 9.


Bariatric surgery is the most effective therapeutic approach to morbid obesity, resulting in substantial weight loss and improved cardiometabolic profiles; however, a growing body of evidence suggests that bariatric procedures increase both skeletal fragility and the risk of related future fracture secondary to excessive bone loss. Prospective evidence shows that areal bone mineral density (BMD) assessed by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) declines by as much as 14% in the proximal femoral regions, including the femoral neck and total hip, 12 months postoperatively. Lumbar spine areal BMD outcomes show greater 12-month postoperative variability across surgical procedures (-8 to +6%) and contrast with no change in volumetric BMD outcomes measured by quantitative computed tomography. Diminished mechanical loading, micronutrient deficiency and malabsorption, along with neurohormonal alterations, offer plausible underlying mechanisms to explain these observed post-bariatric bone changes, but most remain largely unsubstantiated in this population. Importantly, DXA-based skeletal imaging may have limited utility in accurately detecting bone change in people undergoing bariatric surgery; partly because excessive tissue overlying bone increases the variability of areal BMD outcomes. Moreover, a paucity of fracture and osteoporosis incidence data raises questions about whether marked post-bariatric surgery bone loss is clinically relevant or a functional adaptation to skeletal unloading. Future studies that use technology which is able to accurately capture the site-specific volumetric BMD and bone architectural changes that underpin bone strength in people undergoing bariatric surgery, that consider mechanical load, and that better quantify long-term fracture and osteoporosis incidence are necessary to understand the actual skeletal effects of bariatric surgery.

Keywords: bariatric surgery; body composition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Bariatric Surgery* / adverse effects
  • Bone Density*
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Bone and Bones / physiopathology*
  • Fractures, Bone / etiology
  • Fractures, Bone / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity, Morbid / surgery*
  • Osteoporosis / etiology
  • Osteoporosis / physiopathology*
  • Weight Loss*