New Research: Weight-Loss Surgery can Stem Diabetes - The Jewish Voice
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Thursday, December 8, 2022

New Research: Weight-Loss Surgery can Stem Diabetes

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In an impressive scientific development, the results of two new reliable health studies have proven that weight-loss surgery can definitely reverse – and possibly even cure – diabetes. The studies compared operations that reduce a person’s stomach to medicines taken specifically for “diabesity” — Type 2 diabetes that is caused by obesity. Health experts say that millions of Americans have this condition, and thus are unable to generate enough insulin – or use the amount they do produce – to process sugar from food. According to the two studies, weight-loss surgery enabled a much greater number of patients to achieve normal blood-sugar levels than medications alone did. In the dramatic results, some of the patients were able to stop taking insulin as early as three days after their operations. Additionally, their cholesterol levels and other heart risk factors greatly improved as a result of the procedure.

While physicians prefer not to state definitively that a disease will never return, in one of the two studies, most patients who had undergone weight-loss surgery were able to stop taking all diabetes drugs, as their disease remained in remission for at least two years. The same results were unattainable by the patients who were only treated with medicines.

 “It is a major advance,” said Dr. John Buse of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a prominent expert on diabetes who did not participate in the studies. Buse revealed that, while he often recommends weight-loss surgery to his patients who are obese and unable to control their blood-sugar through medications, many of them are reluctant to go through with the operation. “This evidence will help convince them that this really is an important therapy to at least consider,” the medical expert said. The breakthrough studies were published on the Internet by the New England Journal of Medicine.
More than a third of American adults are clinically obese, and more than 8 percent have diabetes, which is a major cause of heart disease and strokes. Between 5 and 10 million American adults have both issues, as did the people in these studies.

Physicians have classically treated diabetes with appropriate pills and insulin, and recommended weight loss and exercise, ultimately with limited success. People who are obese find it difficult to lose a lot of weight without surgery, and unfortunately, many of the medications used to treat diabetes can exacerbate the situation by causing weight gain. In sharp contrast, surgery offers the potential for a long-term solution. It generally costs $15,000 to $25,000, and Medicare covers it for very obese people who also have diabetes. In gastric bypass, the most commonly performed type of surgery, doctors perform “keyhole” surgery, reducing the stomach to a small pouch and then reconnecting it to the small intestine.

Based on the studies, it appeared that the surgery itself — not just weight loss — helps reverse diabetes. Food causes the gut to produce hormones that spur insulin, so physicians believe that cutting away part of it through surgery may affect those hormones. “Weight-loss surgery has proven to be a very appropriate and excellent treatment for diabetes,” asserted Dr. Francesco Rubino, chief of diabetes surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “The most proper name for the surgery would be diabetes surgery.”

According to Dr. Alvin Powers, director of the Vanderbilt University diabetes center, the results of this latest research are quite encouraging for people who are very obese and have diabetes that cannot be controlled through more routine means. However, Powers cautioned that, “We still don’t know the long-term outcomes of these surgeries” and whether the benefits will last for more than several years.

Other experts, though, were more positive. The studies “are likely to have a major effect on future diabetes treatment,” two diabetes experts from Australia, Dr. Paul Zimmet and George Alberti, wrote in an editorial in the medical journal. Surgery “should not be seen as a last resort” and should be considered earlier in treating obese people with diabetes, they wrote.

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