By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) – People who have weight-loss surgery are more likely to achieve remission of diabetes than those who try to shed excess pounds by dieting and exercising, a recent study suggests.

Researchers randomly assigned 61 participants with type 2 diabetes to one of three weight-loss interventions: an operation known as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass; a type of surgery known as laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding; or an intensive weight-loss program focused on cutting calories and increasing exercise

After five years, six people who got the Roux-en-Y procedures, or 30%, achieved partial or complete diabetes remission, compared with four people, or 19%, of the participants who had gastric banding, the study found. None of the people in the diet-and-exercise group achieved remission.

“Any degree of weight loss, even that achieved by non-surgical means (typically about 5% of starting weight as shown in this study), can be helpful in controlling health issues such as diabetes, lipids, and hypertension,” said Dr. Anita Courcoulas of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the study’s lead author.

“Nevertheless, the head-to-head comparison of lifestyle treatment versus surgical procedures, as in this study, shows (the) superiority of the surgical treatments for diabetes-control endpoints and weight loss,” Courcoulas said by email.

Laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, also known as lap-band surgery, is a less-invasive procedure that involves placing an adjustable inflatable belt around the upper portion of the stomach. The band can be made of silicone and tightened by adding saline, and the effects are reversible. It effectively reduces the amount of food the stomach can hold, and people are advised to eat portions about the size of a shot glass post-surgery.

Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is a more invasive procedure in which a surgeon staples off the upper portion of the stomach and reroutes food to bypass the rest of the stomach and the small intestine. The working part of the stomach is reduced to the size of an egg, and this cannot be reversed.

Everyone in the study had type 2 diabetes, which is associated with aging and excess weight. Patients were 47 years old, on average, obese and living with dangerously elevated blood sugar levels.

Five years after the procedures, people who had the Roux-en-Y bypass surgery lost an average of 25% of their body weight, compared with about 13% with the lap-band and 5% in the group assigned to intensive lifestyle management.

In addition, 56% of the people who had Roux-en-Y procedures had stopped taking medications to manage diabetes by the end of the study, compared with 45% of the people who had laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding and none of the participants in the lifestyle group.

One limitation of the study is that researchers only tested one approach to diet and exercise for weight loss, and other approaches might have achieved different results, the study team notes in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The study was also small, and done at a single medical center, so results might differ with more people or in other locations.

Still, the findings add to evidence suggesting that surgical weight loss may be the best approach to achieving diabetes remission, said Dr. Michel Gagner of Herbert Wertheim School of Medicine at Florida International University in Miami.

“It decreases the overall caloric intake more efficiently and sustainably than just diets,” Gagner, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

Patients with poorly controlled diabetes should consider surgery when they’re obese and unable to lower their blood sugar enough with medications, said Dr. Ricardo Cohen, director of the Center for the Treatment of Obesity and Diabetes at Hospital Oswaldo Cruz in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“The best option for medically uncontrolled type 2 and (obesity) is the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass,” Cohen, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, online January 9, 2020.