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Experts report that only about 1% of people who meet the requirements for weight loss surgery have the procedure. Isabel Infantes/Europa Press via Getty Images
  • Researchers report that more than half of the people in a retrospective study went into remission from type 2 diabetes after having weight loss surgery.
  • They added that the study participants who had gastric bypass surgery had less need for diabetes medications after their procedure.
  • Experts say weight loss surgery is safe but emphasize that people still need to adopt lifestyle changes such as healthy diets and exercise programs after their procedure.

More than half of people with type 2 diabetes who have weight loss surgery go into remission from their disease.

That’s according to research presented today at the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) annual meeting.

The findings, which haven’t been published yet in a peer review journal, report that people with type 2 diabetes who underwent gastric bypass had a shorter duration of disease and less need for diabetes medications following surgery.

“This study shows that diabetes remission is not fully contingent on weight loss after gastric bypass surgery,” Dr. Omar Ghanem, the lead author of the study and a metabolic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said in a press statement.

“The key is to maintain close monitoring and efficient management of diabetes after surgery,” he added. “Metabolic surgery is not a magic pill, but it offers perhaps the only chance for many people to rid themselves of diabetes and its associated complications once and for all.”

The research involved a retrospective study of 815 people with diabetes who had weight loss surgery between 2008 and 2017. Patients were followed for an average of 7 years following their surgery.

The average patient body mass index (BMI) was about 45. This is considered as having severe obesity.

In the United States, nearly 42% of people are classified as having obesity. The prevalence of obesity has increased 11% since 1999. The prevalence of severe obesity has also increased.

Obesity increases the risk of a number of health conditions including stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

More than 37 million people in the United States have diabetes. Of those, 90 to 95% have type 2 diabetes. About 96 million people have prediabetes.

Type 2 diabetes can be managed with healthy eating and exercise. Insulin and other medications may also be prescribed to manage blood sugar levels and help avoid complications of the disease.

If medications aren’t effective against type 2 diabetes, weight loss surgery may be recommended.

“We now have better medications to manage diabetes that also help individuals lose weight (eg, semaglutide, tirzepatide). It is worth trying these medications first,” Dr. Sun Kim, an endocrinologist at Stanford University in California who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today. “If diabetes and weight still cannot be managed, surgery should be considered sooner than later, as data for diabetes remission, including results from this study, suggest higher rates of diabetes remission with shorter duration of diabetes prior to initiation of insulin.”

The ASMBS says only 1% of people who meet the eligibility requirements for weight loss surgery go through with the procedure each year.

As well as the weight loss benefits, research suggests that people with diabetes who undergo weight loss surgery also have less heart attacks, hospitalizations, and death compared with their peers who didn’t have the surgery.

Weight loss surgery may also be referred to as metabolic, bariatric or gastric bypass surgery. The safety of the surgery is comparable to an appendectomy or gallbladder surgery.

“The surgery is safe for the appropriate patient,” Dr. Sidney Hu, a bariatric surgeon at The University of Kansas Health System who wasn’t involved in the study, told Medical News Today. “The risks of complications are low. Risk of death from RNYGB (Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass) in experienced hands is less than 0.2 percent. Risk of leak is less than 1-2 percent. To put this into perspective, risk of leak from a colon resection can range from 5 to 20 percent and risk of death can range from less than 1 percent to 20 percent, depending on surrounding circumstances for surgery.”

Hu says the majority of people with type 2 diabetes will experience remission following weight loss surgery, but some will require additional therapies.

“Most patients will leave the hospital without the need for their diabetic medications. 85 percent of patients after a RNYGB will go into remission on discharge from the hospital, even prior to any significant weight loss. However, not all patients remain in remission,” she said.

“For some patients, following the post-operative guidelines – continuing with appropriate food choices, exercise can maintain their remission status,” Hu added. “For some patients, their obesity may be more severe or resistant to treatment and those patient may find they experience recurrence of obesity with subsequent recurrence of their diabetes. These patients may require additional nutritional counseling, behavioral therapy and medical weight management as well as start diabetic medications to get their disease back into control/remission.”

Experts emphasize that weight loss surgery does not eliminate the need for appropriate lifestyle changes for those with type 2 diabetes who undergo the surgery.

“Bariatric surgery is a viable and underutilized option for patients with type 2 diabetes with excess weight. However, bariatric surgery does not obviate the need for lifestyle changes, including diet changes and regular physical activity as well as adequate sleep and tress management,” Kim said.