Can Weight-loss Surgery Cure Type 2 Diabetes?

According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), the U.S. is in the midst of twin epidemics – obesity and diabetes. Obesity is a major risk factor for developing diabetes, and more than 90 percent of Type 2 diabetics are overweight or obese, according to the ASMBS.

An estimated 25 million Americans are currently affected by Type 2 diabetes. Because such a large percentage of our population is affected or at risk, novel treatments with the potential to lower the incidence of diabetes have captured the attention of clinicians, hospital administrators, researchers, and patients.

For overweight and obese patients, bariatric surgery has long been considered an effective option for significant weight loss that can also reduce sleep apnea and heart disease. However, some researchers have asked whether bariatric surgery can also cure diabetes. Some obese people who have weight-loss surgery see their diabetes disappear. Their blood sugar normalizes, and they no longer need medication to control it. Whether the diabetes-free benefit lasts forever, though, remains to be seen.

In 2012, two studies demonstrated that 95% of patients saw their diabetes improve or disappear two years after undergoing a lap band, biliopancreatic diversion, or gastric bypass surgery for weight loss. Researchers found that in obese patients with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, 12 months of medical therapy plus bariatric surgery achieved glycemic control in significantly more patients than medical therapy alone.

No one can be sure how surgery will impact the future of diabetes care. More comparisons between bariatric surgeries and medical therapy are needed before anyone in the industry can arrive at a firm conclusion. However, in 2011, the FDA expanded bariatric surgery eligibility requirements to include patients with lower BMI and at least one obesity-related risk factor, such as diabetes. This change will likely encourage continued research on the link between weight loss surgeries and lasting diabetes remission.

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