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Health Team

Could gastric bypass surgery cure diabetes?

Posted September 29, 2008 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2008 6:37 p.m. EDT

— Gastric bypass and other surgeries have become a popular way for the obese to lose weight. The procedure has also proven effective at curing diabetes.

Mary Stanford weighed 300 pounds four years ago and was a Type 2 diabetic. Gastric bypass surgery helped her lose 140 pounds, and her diabetes disappeared almost immediately.

“(It was) definitely a relief. Your sugars are normal, you don't have to worry about testing every day (and) you don't have to worry about remembering to take your medication,” she said.

Some doctors are considering gastric bypass for a larger number of diabetics.

“We now have sufficient evidence that gastric bypass can improve diabetes dramatically,” said Dr. Francesco Rubino with the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York.

There is an obesity threshold. Someone who is 5 feet 8 inches tall has to be at least 230 pounds to get the surgery. Rubino said he planned to begin a new study, performing the surgery on patients about 30 pounds lighter.

“We're going to compare surgery [with] conventional medical treatment to understand whether surgery might be preferable in this subset of patients,” he said.

Researchers say it's not just the weight loss that rids the body of diabetes. The surgery might also spark hormonal changes in the body.

“A large number of people with diabetes will see their diabetes drop off within days to a few weeks after the bypass, long before they've lost much weight,” said Dr. David Crumpler, an endocrinologist.

Experts say they believe it's possible that the surgery could even help diabetics who are just overweight and not obese.

“We have to be very cautious and do more studies before we offer surgery to everybody,” Rubino said.

The outcome of those studies could give millions of diabetics a new option.