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Stomach Surgery: Better Than Dieting to Control Diabetes

  • Carol Pearson

Doctors are turning to bariatric surgery, the kind that shrinks the stomach, to control type 2 diabetes. A number of studies show this type of surgery drastically improves blood sugar levels, but researchers don't know why. Now studies at two U.S. medical centers have uncovered a new clue for why a type of bariatric surgery works.

Doctors have discovered something incredible, they have found a way to reverse type 2 diabetes. Bariatric surgery is an umbrella term for different surgeries that make the stomach smaller. One in particular, gastric bypass surgery, reverses type 2 diabetes in up to 80 percent of patients.

Dr. Phil Schauer at the Cleveland Clinic says afterwards patients can literally throw away their insulin. "Before they leave the hospital, they'll never use insulin again," he said.


Before her surgery, Katy Wiley suffered from complications from diabetes for 16 years. "It was horrible. Diabetes controlled my life," she said.

Some doctors are now promoting gastric bypass surgery as a way to control diabetes.

“Bariatric surgery has been shown to bring blood sugar under control more effectively than other intervention such as dietary intervention and we don’t have a complete explanation for that phenomenon," said Professor Christopher Newgard at Duke University.

He and other researchers at Columbia University began looking for chemical changes in the body's metabolism. They looked at one group of diabetics who had the surgery and another group who lost weight through diet and exercise. Both groups lost the same amount of weight. Then the researchers analyzed the chemical differences in the patients' blood. “And we found there was a very clear difference in the chemical response to weight loss by those two different interventions," he said.

Those who had the surgery had fewer insulin-resisting amino acids in their blood. Amino acids are building blocks for protein. But some types prevent the body from using insulin to control blood sugar levels. These particular amino acids are called branched-chain amino acids. "What we’ve found about branch chain amino acids in the last couple of years: strongly associated with insulin resistance, strongly predictive of imminent diabetes risk and then strongly responsive to an intervention which we know to be very efficient for improving blood glucose homeostasis (blood glucose regulation) and that is bariatric surgery," he said.

At this time, bariatric surgery is the most effective way of reversing type 2 diabetes. But doctors hope, with more research, drugs can be developed to control these amino acids and reverse this disease.

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