Gastric bypass may reverse diabetes in teens

January 5, 2009 5:00:25 PM PST
Scientists may have stumbled upon an exciting new benefit from weight loss surgery. A new study has found that gastric bypass surgery can reverse type 2 diabetes in teenagers. And now researchers say it can significantly improve a liver condition that can lead to a transplant. Jamie Foreman has battled a weight problem for most of her young life.

"The emotional part of it was hard and the physical problems started coming up as I got heavier and heavier," said Foreman.

The 18-year old is borderline diabetic. She also suffers from sleep apnea and a common obesity-related liver problem called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

"And they were talking about if it had gotten worse I had to have a liver transplant," said Foreman.

"When you hear liver transplant, that's scary," said Foreman's mother, Cynthia Rich.

Fatty liver disease is a growing problem because of the obesity epidemic. Now doctors say bariatric surgery can actually help reverse this serious liver problem and it can literally reverse type 2 diabetes.

"I hate to use the word 'cure' but it really is almost a cure for diabetes in most of the diabetic teenagers that we've treated with bariatric surgery," said Dr. Mary Brand, Director of Bariatric Surgery at Texas Children's Hospital.

Three out of the five teens Dr. Brandt operated has operated on are now "cured" of diabetes. The other two teens are greatly improved. Dr. Brandt is doing a national study on the ethics of doing gastric bypass surgery in teenagers and she says there's no question childhood obesity causes many health problems.

"Most of the problems that they have is because of the obesity. And reversing the obesity allows those diseases to resolve, as well," said Dr. Brandt.

Jamie got her gastric bypass surgery three weeks ago. She's already lost weight and feels better.

"It's been 23 pounds and you can already just feel more active, more energy," said Foreman.

Dr. Brandt says it'll be six months before they know if her liver problem has healed, but she says Foreman is already getting healthier.

"We anticipate she'll easily lose 60 to 80 pounds in the first year and that should result in a complete resolution of her health problems," said Dr. Brandt.

Scientists say gastric bypass may work because certain hormones in the digestive tract change the way they respond when digestion no longer relies on the stomach's help. Doctors say once they identify how the body changes after surgery, there's little doubt surgery for diabetes can be replaced by medication.

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