Weight-Loss Surgery Can Improve Type 1 Diabetes

Patients in study needed less insulin, lowered cholesterol

Many studies have shown that weight-loss surgery can improve or even reverse symptoms of type 2 diabetes. A new study led by a Cleveland Clinic physician shows the same surgery can significantly help people with type 1 diabetes.

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An auto- immune reaction causes type 1 diabetes, in which the body’s defense system attacks the cells that produce insulin. Until recently, type 1 diabetes was called juvenile-onset diabetes.

People with type 1 diabetes produce very little or no insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. People with this form of diabetes must have injections of insulin every day.

Strong improvement

It was always thought factors like weight loss wouldn’t help lessen type 1 diabetes because of its autoimmune system origins – as opposed to type 2, with its links to being overweight.

The new study, led by bariatric surgeon Stacy Brethauer, MD, shows for the first time that bariatric surgery can markedly improve type 1 diabetes.

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Patients in the study saw strong improvement in diabetes control, decreased need for insulin and improvements in other cardiovascular conditions that could lead to complications in diabetics. Some patients reduced their insulin intake by up to 70 percent.

The benefits of weight loss

In addition, because of the need for insulin and diet requirements, it’s often very difficult for type 1 diabetes patients to lose weight by traditional means.

“We were able to get significant weight loss in these patients,” Dr. Brethauer says. “That afforded them much better control of their diabetes.”

Ten patients participated in the study. Dr. Brethauer says longer follow-up studies with larger groups of patients are needed to confirm the benefits of bariatric surgery in patients with type 1 diabetes. But the study’s initial results look promising, he says.

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“We certainly have no expectation that this is going to put their diabetes in remission, but we do have better control of their diabetes and their day-to-day glucose levels, which is important,” Dr. Brethauer says. 

 The study appears today in the journal Diabetes Care.

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