Healthcare News & Insights

Could surgery cure diabetes?

Curing diabetes is a long-held — and thus far, impossible to achieve — goal of the medical community. New research indicates that, as unlikely as it sounds, surgery just might be the answer. 

Two new studies, just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that established weight-loss surgeries were significantly more effective than other conventional treatments for Type 2 diabetes.

Patients who had the weight-loss surgeries experienced a complete remission of their diabetes, or failing that, needed less medicine than their counterparts who stuck with traditional medical treatments along with diet and exercise. Many of the surgical patients also experienced lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

The results were startling: In the first, at the Catholic University in Rome, after two years, two groups of surgical patients had complete remission rates of 75% and 95%. None of the medically controlled patients went into remission.

A second study at the Cleveland Clinic looked at similar groups of patients. Overall, these groups had lower remission rates (partly due to a stricter definition of “remission”). But one year after surgery the two surgical groups had remission rates of 42% and 37%. Only 12% of patients receiving medical treatment went into remission. (Note: Neither study included so-called “lap band” surgery as one of the treatments, because it does not alter the shape of the stomach.)

The studies are the first to scientifically examine the effect — long noticed by doctors working with bariatric surgery patients.

According to the researchers, even though obesity is a known factor in the onset of Type 2 diabetes, the surgeries didn’t control the disease simply by helping patient lose weight. Instead, it seems the anatomical changes to the organs actually changes the levels of various hormones that control how the body metabolizes fat and sugar.

While more effective treatments for diabetes are a godsend for many patients, many experts caution that bariatric surgery comes with its own risks, and isn’t necessarily a good choice for many patients.

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