In addition to shedding excess weight, bariatric surgery can be beneficial for people with obesity as it may reverse complications connected to diabetes, a new study has found.

The term bariatric surgery collectively denotes gastric bypass and other weight-loss surgeries. It is prescribed when people with obesity find it difficult to make improvements with exercise and diet or when they face serious health issues due to being overweight.

The basic principle of bariatric surgery is to restrict food intake and decrease the absorption of food in the stomach and intestines.

Common health issues associated with obesity include type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and obstructive sleep apnea. The use of bariatric surgery is approved for patients with a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or more, who also have at least one of these conditions.

Around 160,000 people in the U.S. undergo bariatric surgery each year. However, only around 1% of the population that needs weight loss surgeries opt for it. The numbers are low because of many misconceptions and fears about risks associated with the surgery.

How does bariatric surgery help diabetes?

Obesity is one of the potential risk factors for developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes patients who are obese, the amount of insulin produced may be normal. However, it may be inadequate to meet the needs of the body, which results in elevated blood sugar levels.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Health Department of Neurology followed more than 120 patients who had undergone bariatric surgery for over two years after the procedure.

They found the participants had marked improvements in all metabolic risk factors for developing diabetes, such as high glucose and lipid levels, except blood pressure and total cholesterol.

In addition to these positive changes, the patients also showed improvements in peripheral neuropathy, a condition that causes nerve damage outside of the brain and spinal cord. The patients often experience weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet. Although peripheral neuropathy can be caused by traumatic injuries, infections and metabolic problems, the most common cause is diabetes.

The scientists evaluated the nerve fiber density of the participants two years after the surgery. They then found that nerve fiber density improved in the thigh and remained stable in the leg.

"Given the natural history of peripheral neuropathy decline in patients with obesity, even stability in nerve fiber density may be considered a successful result," said Evan Reynolds, a lead author of the study.

Peripheral neuropathy is currently treated using topical analgesics and oral pain relief medications.

"Our findings suggest that bariatric surgery likely enables the regeneration of the peripheral nerves and, therefore, may be an effective treatment for millions of individuals with obesity who are at risk of developing diabetes and peripheral neuropathy," lead authors Brian C. Callaghan and Eva L. Feldman said.

bariatric surgery
Women who are severely obese have an increased risk for uterine cancer, but they are able to decrease that if they undergo bariatric surgery. Image courtesy of Shutterstock