New study: Weight-loss surgery may cure diabetes

Could weight-loss surgery be a cure for type 2 diabetes? That’s exactly what a new study, published today by the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests.

The study showed that weight-loss surgery is dramatically more effective in the treatment of type 2 diabetes than a conventional treatment of diet changes and medication. Patients in the study suffered from severe type 2 diabetes, and most went into remission after undergoing one of two bariatric surgeries.

“It’s an unprecedented effect that we’ve never seen in diabetes before,” says surgeon Dr. Francesco Rubino, senior author of the NEJM study and director of The Diabetes Surgery Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Remission hasn’t even been a word in the textbooks about diabetes.”

Doctors have been performing bariatric (or weight-loss) surgeries since the 1950s. Until now, the procedures have been considered just a treatment for morbid obesity.

“The name ‘bariatric’ comes from a Greek term ‘baros,’ which means weight,” explained Dr. Rubino. “In the 1950s, there were anecdotal reports that diabetes disappeared after these surgeries, but it was considered a side-effect of weight loss.”

Four years ago, Dr. Rubino was interviewed by Lesley Stahl for a 60 Minutes report on gastric bypass surgery as a potential cure for diabetes. “At the time it was little more than an exciting pie-in-the-sky theory,” says 60 Minutes producer Shachar Bar-On, who worked with Stahl on story. Back then, Dr. Rubino had been performing the surgeries on diabetic rats, effectively reversing the animals’ diabetes with his scalpel.

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