Muhammad A. Jawad, MD
It’s hardly news that obesity and related health problems represent a major public health problem in the United States. More than 40 percent of the nation’s population is considered obese. That’s fueled an increase in people with Type 2 diabetes – the most common illness linked to obesity, accounting for up to 50 percent of all new cases.
What you may not know, however, is that it’s possible to manage — or even reverse — Type 2 diabetes through weight loss and bariatric surgery.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that prevents your body from properly using sugar (glucose) as fuel. It’s essentially a two-part problem. The pancreas loses the ability to make enough insulin, the hormone that helps control the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. At the same, the cells stop responding normally to insulin (insulin resistance) and take in less sugar. Eventually, this cycle leads to an unhealthy build-up of sugar in the blood, resulting in Type 2 diabetes.
If those high blood sugar levels cannot be lowered, the condition can lead to a range of health problems including:
- Cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke)
- Vision loss
- Kidney disease
- Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy)
- Skin infections and disorders
Diabetes is deadly, killing more Americans every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined, according to the American Diabetes Association. It’s imperative that individuals diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes are able to manage their symptoms and blood sugar levels.
Connection Between Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Insulin resistance is just one part of the Type 2 diabetes equation. Obesity also causes a decrease in ghrelin, a hormone that plays a role in regulation of food intake and energy metabolism, including glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Although not everyone with Type 2 diabetes is overweight, obesity is considered a critical risk factor for the disease. It increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by at least six times, regardless of genetic predisposition.
Bariatric Surgery Can Reverse Type 2 Diabetes
When someone with Type 2 diabetes loses weight through diet and exercise and/or bariatric surgery, insulin sensitivity improves, and they are better able to control their blood sugar — meaning they may be able to reverse diabetes. One study of obese, Type 2 diabetic patients who had gastric bypass surgery found that 64 percent experienced remission one year after the procedure.
In another study, almost half of participants with diabetes who were given a six-month diet plan and lost an average of 30 pounds went into remission. None took any medications during that time to control their disease, relying on weight loss alone.
Remission isn’t the same as a cure, and some people will still need medication to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. However, weight loss — through surgery or lifestyle changes — is the most important factor in achieving remission.
Health Benefits of Reversing Diabetes
If you can achieve remission of your Type 2 diabetes, the health benefits are significant. You’ll be at much less risk of developing cardiovascular disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
Wondering if you may be able to reverse your diabetes with weight loss? Talk to your healthcare provider about surgical and lifestyle options for helping you lose weight.