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Weighing in on diabetes
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Is surgery for you?

The kid question
The kid question

Could surgery be an option for obese teens with type 2 diabetes as well? Maybe.

Researchers with the National Institutes of Health are currently investigating this. The five-year study will follow 200 adolescents who undergo weight-loss surgery and compare their results to those of 200 adults who do.

Preliminary research suggests it may reverse their diabetes. In a study of 78 teens with type 2 diabetes, 11 underwent Lap-Band surgery. The others were treated using a controlled diet, oral medications and insulin.

Teens who had surgery lost 34 percent of their weight, on average. They also saw improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin, and their diabetes went into remission. The others lost an average of two pounds and still needed diabetes drugs.

Researchers are optimistic that weight-loss surgery may help prevent long-term diabetes damage and complications in teens. But some experts urge caution, as the surgery doesn’t fix the root of the teen obesity problem: bad eating habits and inactive lifestyles.

About a third of Americans are obese, and with those extra pounds often comes diabetes. Now, several recent studies suggest that the various forms of weight-loss surgery can not only help overweight people shed weight, but the procedures may also stop diabetes in its tracks.

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Last year, an Australian study found that three-quarters of patients who underwent laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, or Lap-Band surgery, a reversible procedure in which the surgeon places a band across the top part of the stomach, creating a pouch the size of a walnut, got their blood sugar levels down to normal and no longer needed insulin or other diabetes medication.

Another recent study of obese people found that the death rate was lower for people who had weight-loss surgery than for those who didn’t. Diabetes-related deaths were reduced by 92 percent among those who chose the surgical route.

Past research has shown significant improvements in diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and sleep apnea for those who underwent weight-loss surgery.

It’s still unclear how surgery improves diabetes (it may be more than just the weight loss), and it may not affect the secondary effects of diabetes, like neuropathy (nerve pain) or retinopathy (damage to blood vessels in the retina). In any case, experts aren’t calling weight-loss surgery a diabetes cure, so it’s wise to be cautious.

Is surgery for you?

Experts generally only recommend surgery for the severely obese—men who are at least 100 pounds overweight and women who are at least 80 pounds overweight. In some cases, healthcare providers recommend surgery for people who don’t meet that guideline but have a serious condition like diabetes or heart disease.

Weight-loss surgery isn’t a minor procedure. Serious or even fatal complications can occur. And it’s not a free pass to eat whatever you want. If you don’t change your eating habits and stay active, the weight—and the diabetes—can return.

As researchers continue to study the full impact of weight-loss surgery on diabetes, your best bet is to talk with your healthcare professional if you’re considering the surgery.