Is gastric bypass surgery the key to a cure for diabetes type II?

by Mark Benson on November 30, 2012

Is gastric bypass surgery the key to a cure for diabetes type II?

Researchers from the Group Health Research Institute are very much in the news this week after publishing data from their 14 year study into gastric bypass surgery and the impact this has upon type II diabetes. The results make very interesting reading although those who believe that this particular type of surgery is the key to unlocking a cure for diabetes type II will likely be disappointed when we look at the underlying data.

We will now review the information in the public domain and discuss the potential impact going forward with regards to type II diabetes.

The study

The link between gastric bypass surgery and diabetes was studied in depth during a 14 year research programme hosted by a number of health institutions across California. It began in 1995 and finished in 2008, involving just over 4400 patients suffering from diabetes type II. Some of the diabetics did not take medication for their condition while others were prepared to use whatever medical means available. Each of the individuals involved in the research programme was deemed to be obese to the extent that they would actually have been naturally considered for a gastric bypass operation.

The results from the research programme are very interesting and we will now break it down bit by bit to see exactly what this means for the future and whether indeed there is hope for type II diabetics.

Initially encouraging data

Perhaps the major headline grabbing data from this particular research programme was the fact that two thirds of those who took part in the study experienced the mystery “disappearance” of their diabetes symptoms after surgery. This mystery disappearance of diabetic symptoms often occurred even before the individuals had actually lost physical weight which is a bit of a surprise when you bear in mind that so many people link obesity and diabetes.

The return of diabetes

Unfortunately one third of those individuals who experienced a disappearance of their diabetic symptoms saw them re-emerge within five years. This would obviously have been a body blow for those individuals in this particular category although on the upside there were a number of people who experienced gastric bypass surgery and were still diabetes free after the five-year period. Researchers will obviously continue to monitor those who took part in the research programme and hopefully we should see some more data in the future.

One of the more bizarre elements of this particular research programme is the fact that while all of the individuals who took part in the gastric bypass surgery were of a similar background with regards to general health, weight size, etc, they often experienced very different results. Why did some people react better to the gastric bypass surgery than others? Why did diabetes appear to return after a five-year period?

No long-lasting remission

While the headline grabbing news is obviously centred round the fact that a number of individuals did see the disappearance of their diabetes symptoms immediately after the gastric bypass surgery, overall it was noted that 56% of those who took part in the programme did not experience any long-lasting diabetes remission. On that basis we can assume that 44% of those who took part did effectively beat diabetes although whether it may return in the years ahead remains to be seen. It is very much a glass half full or a glass half empty situation here but there is certainly scope for more research into the subject of gastric bypass surgery as a means of at least controlling diabetes type II going forward.

Who benefited most from gastric bypass surgery?

If we dig a little deeper with regard to this research programme we will see that those who had less severe diabetes symptoms were the main benefactors of gastric bypass surgery. This would seem to indicate that a sudden loss of weight is of assistance in the fight against diabetes type II although the fact that some of the symptoms seemed to disappear before any significant weight loss was registered is something that needs to be investigated in more detail.

Cynics will argue that those with less severe symptoms may well have “beaten diabetes” themselves naturally because they may well have been deemed to be borderline diabetics. Perhaps if we had seen more of an impact on those with more severe symptoms of diabetes type II then this research programme may have had more credibility and more strength going forward. However, it does most certainly open a new chapter in the fight against diabetes type II.

Does a period of remission help diabetics?

Even though some diabetics experienced remission periods of up to 5 years it would have been a major setback to them when their symptoms reappeared. However, during this five-year period not only had they effectively been clean of diabetes but they would also have been at less risk of complications associated with diabetes such as heart attacks, strokes, etc.

To enter a period of remission, and then have all of your hopes dashed, is obviously a major blow for anybody in this particular situation but the potential five-year period of remission would allow them to live their lives “normally”. We need to know why gastric bypass surgery appears to be so effective for some people, we need to know exactly what impact it has on the human body and any influence it may have over the human immune system.


While the headline data would suggest that gastric bypass surgery is a potential cure for type II diabetes, if we dig a little deeper into the research data this is not the case. There is no doubt that some individuals, those with less severe symptoms and potentially borderline diabetic, did benefit from this gastric bypass surgery and indeed some others did benefit from a potential five-year remission period. This is not a cure for type II diabetes, this is not the key to the door to unlock the complexities of type II diabetes but it is most certainly another step on the journey to a cure.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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