A new study at the Cleveland Clinic shows that bariatric surgery reverses Type 2 diabetes 90 percent of the time, meaning patients have normal blood sugar levels, sometimes immediately afterwards, and they no longer have to take insulin or other medications to control the illness.
Marla Evans enjoys playing with her granddaughter. Eight years ago, Evans had Type 2 diabetes. That was before she underwent gastric bypass surgery. Since then, she has shed 36 kilograms.
Evans participated in a study led by Dr. Philip Schauer at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who wanted to see if the surgery could help patients with diabetes.
"This disease over time can be very debilitating, causing blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart attack and stroke if it’s not well treated," he said.
High blood sugar levels are the hallmark of diabetes. A few years ago, Schauer published the initial results of the study. He found that the stomach-shrinking surgery reversed Type 2 diabetes. The latest results are the same.
"This is very important because it shows that the effect of surgery in lowering blood sugar is durable out to three years. It's not just a short-term effect," said Schauer.
Bariatric surgery is an umbrella term for different surgeries that make the stomach smaller. In the most common procedure, the surgeon cuts across the top of the stomach to create a small pouch about the size of a walnut. Food bypasses most of the stomach and enters directly into the small intestine.
Afterward, patients have to change their lifestyles and stick with a diet that Evans said was sometimes difficult to adjust to, but worth the effort.
“I like the size I am. I like everything that came out of the surgery. It’s a blessing that you don’t have to take medicine, that you are healthier, that you feel good, that you look fantastic.”
The surgery is expensive, but as Schauer said, so is treating diabetes and all its complications.
"So in that regard, I think that surgery will factor in as a viable and efficient and economically advantageous treatment," he said.
Schauer also found that patients who had the surgery had better blood pressure results, and they could reduce the amount of medicine they used to control it. In addition, they had better cholesterol levels and were generally healthier. Evans prepares her own food, and eats far less than before. When Evans thinks about her old lifestyle, she said she misses ice cream. But as for the rest?
"No," she said with a laugh, "absolutely not. I have energy. I have a new life. I am not a diabetic any more."
Schauer said that with the steep increases in obesity and diabetes around the world, bariatric surgery will become more common even outside of Western countries.