New research gives clear proof that weight-loss surgery can reverse and possibly cure diabetes, and doctors say the operation should be offered sooner to more people with the disease — not just as a last resort.
The two studies, released on Monday, are the first to compare stomach-reducing operations to medicines alone for “diabesity” — Type 2 diabetes brought on by obesity. Millions of Americans have this and can’t make enough insulin or use what they do make to process sugar from food.
Both studies found that surgery helped far more patients achieve normal blood-sugar levels than medicines alone did. The results were dramatic: 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.
Doctors don’t like to say “cure” because they can’t promise a disease will never come back. But 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.
The studies were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine, and the larger one was presented Monday at an American College of Cardiology conference in Chicago. More than a third of American adults are obese, and more than 8 percent have diabetes, a major cause of heart disease, strokes and kidney failure. Between 5 million and 10 million are like the people in these studies, with both problems.
For a century, doctors have been treating diabetes with pills and insulin, and encouraging weight loss and exercise with limited success. Few very obese people can drop enough pounds without surgery, and many of the medicines used to treat diabetes can cause weight gain, making things worse.
Surgery offers hope for a long-term fix. It costs $15,000 to $25,000, and Medicare covers it for very obese people with diabetes. Gastric bypass is the most common type: Through “keyhole” surgery, doctors reduce the stomach to a small pouch and reconnect it to the small intestine.
39 year old Tamikka McCray, seen above, lives in New York and works for the city’s Human Resources Administration, had success from her surgery a year and a half ago. When she left the hospital, her diabetes had disappeared before any major weight loss had a chance to occur.
“That was the crazy part,” she said. “I didn’t understand that when they came in and they checked it. My sugars were normal.” She added: “I left the hospital with no medication. And I haven’t been on anything since.”
Read the complete study by clicking on the link below.
What do you think? Would you do the surgery?