Research: Bariatric surgery can reverse diabetes symptoms better than medicine

New research shows weight-loss surgery can reverse the signs of Type 2 diabetes better than medication alone.

The news is not much of a surprise to people like Dr. Paul Stanish, a general and bariatric surgeon with Community Health System.

Previous studies have shown the health benefits of the surgery.

“This is the second study comparing, head to head, patients who are given standard medical therapy and lifestyle changes versus surgical therapy,” Stanish said.

Research has shown the resolution of co-morbidities, which are diseases that are related to or caused by obesity, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and infertility, he said.

Studies released last week showed some people were able to stop taking insulin as soon as three days after their operations. Cholesterol and other heart risk factors also greatly improved.

In one study, most surgery patients were able to stop all diabetes drugs and have their disease stay in remission for at least two years. None of those treated with medicines alone could do that, according to the Associated Press.

Through medical therapy, a doctor may prescribe drugs, exercise and whole, healthy foods to optimize the lifestyle of Type 2 diabetics. There tends to be improvement for people who really stick to it, but the percentage of patients who are put into diabetes remission is low, Stanish said.

Results with surgery are more dramatic.

There were signs that the surgery itself — not just weight loss — helps reverse diabetes. Food makes the gut produce hormones to spur insulin, so trimming away part of it surgically may affect those hormones, doctors believe, according to the Associated Press.

“Our results are identical to that study,” Stanish said.

Some patients leave the hospital without needing their medication. Even with surgery, people need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Surgery is a small part of the whole process,” he said.

Having weight loss surgery does not “cure” diabetes, because some people are genetically predisposed to it. When the symptoms disappear, the diabetes is considered in remission, Stanish said.

Gastric bypass has been successful in putting Type 2 diabetes into remission in nonobese patients as well, said John Karl, a nurse and bariatric coordinator for the Midwest Bariatric Institute through Franciscan St. Margaret Health.

Other forms of weight loss surgery have shown positive results, just not as dramatic, because there is a metabolic change to a person’s system with gastric bypass, Karl said.

“With that metabolic change, your body changes the way you process foods and regulates your insulin,” he said.

For now, many insurance companies will not cover the surgery if the patient is not obese, said Karl, who assists Dr. Gerald Cahill in bariatric surgeries.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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