Research shows weight-loss procedure may be best bet for patients with uncontrolled diabetes

HOUSTON – Diabetes can be deadly. Each year, more than 70,000 Americans die from complications of the disease. About half of all people with type 2 diabetes don't have their condition under control.

New research shows a well-known procedure for weight loss may be the best bet for patients with uncontrolled diabetes.

At her heaviest, Lisa Shaffer weighed almost 300 pounds.

"When I was obese, my life was so limited," Shaffer said.

Her health suffered, too. She had type 2 diabetes, and she tried everything to control it.

"Nothing worked, nope," Shaffer said.

But today, Shaffer is 120 pounds lighter and her diabetes is gone. The reason: gastric bypass surgery.

"It's been incredible. Yeah, it really did give me my life back," Shaffer said.

Phillip Schauer, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Bariatric and Metabolic Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, led a study that compared bariatric surgery, either gastric bypass or gastric sleeve, to intense medical therapy in people with diabetes. After five years, the gastric-bypass patients did the best. Many were in complete remission without drugs or insulin.

"Which is pretty remarkable. That's about as close to a cure that you can get," Schauer said.

Twenty-nine percent of gastric-bypass and 23 percent of gastric-sleeve patients achieved and maintained normal blood sugar levels -- compared to just 5 percent of medication-only patients. The surgery groups also lost more weight and reported a better quality of life.

"All in all, the patients who had surgery did better and were happier at the five-year mark," Schauer said.

Three days after her surgery, Lisa was off all of her meds. Her A1c, a measure of blood-sugar control, was 10.5 before the surgery and today it's 5.3. Now she's able to live the life she's always wanted.

"Ever since I lost the weight, I've run three 5ks. I've done zip-lining with the family, which is fantastic. Just no limits anymore, there's no limitations on my life anymore," Shaffer said.

Schauer said weight loss is one benefit of bariatric surgery. The other is something that happens in the body as a result of the surgery. When the intestines are bypassed, special hormones increase, which helps the pancreas produce insulin more effectively.