Last week the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) announced that gastric bypass surgery is a cost-effective treatment for type 2 diabetes. This marks the first time in modern medicine that cutting out normal tissue is now considered good medicine. It also indicates the pathetic state of medical science for the treatment of diabetes.
Make no mistake: Type 2 diabetes is now a pandemic, affecting approximately 300 million people worldwide. This is projected to increase to some 450 million people worldwide by 2030. Since diabetes is one of the most costly chronic disease conditions, it is the most likely to break the financial backbone of health-care systems in every advanced country.
The typical gastric bypass surgery costs from $15,000 to $24,000. Just for argument's sake, let's assume it is $20,000 for each surgery. Since some 26 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes, then a mere $520 billion dollars spent on gastric bypass surgery would solve our growing epidemic. Obviously we don't have that type of money floating in the health-care system.
Furthermore, the 10-year failure rate is relatively high for this type of surgery (1). For example, 20 percent of patients who were initially obese (BMI >50 percent) could not maintain their long-term BMI below 35 percent (the definition of morbidly obese). This failure rate rises to 58 percent for those whose initial BMI was greater than 50.
The key feature as to why gastric bypass surgery works is the almost immediate suppression of hunger, mediated by improved release of hormones from the gut (i.e. PYY) that go directly to the brain to tell the patient to stop eating. Over time it would appear that this initial enhancement of PYY release is being compromised. As a result, those patients regain the lost weight.
So maybe gastric bypass is not the best long-term solution (and definitely not a cost-effective one in those patients that regain much of their lost weight) for solving the current epidemic of diabetes. So what's the alternative? One solution would be an anti-inflammatory diet that supplies adequate protein to stimulate PYY release as well as control the levels of cellular inflammation in the pancreas, the underlying reason why insufficient insulin levels are secreted in the first place (2).
Call me crazy, but this dietary approach appears far more cost-effective.
- Christou NV, Look D, and MacLean LD. “Weight gain after short- and long-limb gastric bypass in patients followed for longer than 10 years.” Ann Surg 244: 734-740 (2006).
- Donath MY,Boni-Schnetzler M, Ellingsgaard H, and Ehses JA. “Islet inflammation impairs the pancreatic beta-cell in type 2 diabetes.” Physiology 24: 325-331 (2009).