Fewer diabetes drugs, reduced healthcare costs ... the benefits of weight-loss surgery are stacking up


In its potential to fight Type 2 diabetes, bariatric surgery is looking good -- very good. Bariatric surgeons themselves noticed the operation’s potential some time ago, as these earlier stories noted:

Gastric bypass: Is it a diabetes fix?

Weight-loss surgery may soon be widely used

Then other studies began to confirm the operation’s ability to help patients quickly get control of their disease. Now we have a study, published Monday in Archives of Surgery, analyzing diabetes-drug use and healthcare costs in the wake of bariatric surgery.

In that study of 2,235 patients with Type 2 diabetes, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that, six months after bariatric surgery, almost 75% of those patients were able to give up their diabetes medications. Two years after surgery, the number had grown to almost 85%.

More than weight loss is at play here; many people are able to stop medications almost immediately after surgery -- sometimes within days. Gastric hormones, researchers say, likely have a significant, if not completely understood, role.

The researchers write in their conclusions:

“Bariatric surgery is associated with a significant reduction in medication-dependent Type 2 diabetes with little risk. ... Health care providers should consider discussing bariatric surgery in the treatment of obese patients with Type 2 diabetes.”

As the data stacks up -- and as the numbers of Americans with Type 2 diabetes increase, such surgery’s ability to control diabetes could become more than a beneficial side effect for people who want to lose weight. Ultimately, it would seem, the weight loss itself could become a beneficial side effect for people who choose surgery to help them fight diabetes.

Of course, insurance companies would have to get on board... And that brings us to the other significant aspect of the latest findings: Annual healthcare costs fell dramatically in the second and third years after surgery when compared with annual costs before the surgery.

Here is ...

-- a diabetes explainer from

-- the primer Bariatric Surgery for Severe Obesity from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. It explains the types of surgery and the possible complications.

-- and a roundup of diabetes statistics from the American Diabetes Assn.

-- Tami Dennis / Los Angeles Times