New study indicates bariatric surgery may be able to reverse diabetic neuropathy
More than 100 million Americans currently qualify as obese – that’s nearly 40% of the entire population and the problem is worsening. There are also more than 37 million people across the nation living with diabetes, the vast majority of whom are managing the Type 2 form of the disease – another major health crisis.
Type 2 diabetes is directly linked to being overweight with somewhere between 80% and 90% of all individuals diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes also qualifying as overweight, if not obese.
Weight and Type 2 diabetes
Not only is being overweight one of the primary risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes, but it also makes managing the disease far more difficult once a diagnosis is delivered, as an excess of body fat often increases insulin resistance. Obesity also heightens the risk of experiencing serious diabetes-related health complications, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage).
In this post, we’ll touch on a new study related to neuropathy that just might be a gamechanger.
What is diabetic neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy occurs when prolonged high blood sugar damages the body’s nerves. For most individuals, nerve damage related to neuropathy is found in the extremities, known as peripheral neuropathy, and most often in the feet where numbness and tingling may occur.
Because obesity is the second leading risk factor for peripheral neuropathy after diabetes, when you put the two conditions together the risk of nerve damage is significantly compounded.
On a positive note, a new study released in April of 2023 by the University of Michigan Health Department of Neurology and published in Science News, indicates that losing weight through bariatric surgery might reverse damage to the nerves caused by peripheral neuropathy.
University of Michigan study
A research team followed more than 120 patients who underwent bariatric surgery for a period of two years following the procedure, and the findings were rather remarkable.
For starters, in all the individuals the metabolic risk factors for developing diabetes, including high glucose and lipid levels, improved. Even more telling was the fact that just two years removed from the surgery, patients showed an improvement in peripheral neuropathy and, perhaps, even a regeneration of the damaged nerves.
“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,” states the study’s senior author, Brian C. Callaghan, M.D., M.S., a neurologist at University of Michigan Health.
How did they come to these findings?
Skin biopsies were taken of the thigh and leg. These samples reveal nerve fiber density in these areas, and the biopsies taken two years after the bariatric procedure showed nerve fiber density improvement in the thigh and nerve fiber stability in the leg.
Because there is most often a natural progression of decline in patients with neuropathy, showing improvement and even stability over a two-year period suggests a positive relationship between bariatric surgery and nerve regeneration.
Evan Reynolds Ph.D., the studies first author and lead statistician for the NeuroNetwork for Emerging Therapies at Michigan Medicine summed up the findings by saying, “Stability of nerve fiber density in the leg and improvement in nerve fiber density at the thigh indicates that bariatric surgery may be a successful therapy to improve or reverse peripheral neuropathy for patients with long-term metabolic impairment.”
Treatment for Diabetic Neuropathy
Currently, treatment for peripheral neuropathy typically focuses on pain and symptom management, whether through oral medications, topical analgesics, and non-medical treatments, such as diabetic socks. The possibility of reversing nerve damage and fixing the problem at its core through bariatric surgery is a gamechanger, though it is by no means an automatic solution.
The news is promising. But bariatric surgery is not always the answer.
Bariatric surgery is a major procedure with its own risk factors and is usually reserved for the most serious cases of obesity. It’s certainly something that requires careful consultation with your physician and may not be the best answer to your individual weight loss needs.
If you’re living with diabetes, eating a low-carb, low-fat diet and getting plenty of physical activity is part of your diabetes management program, and very well may help you shed those unwanted pounds.
However, if you are unable to effectively manage your weight with lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor about other weight loss options that might work for you.
We hope you found this post informative and insightful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to keeping the diabetes community informed, and helping those with diabetes manage blood sugar with a complete selection of testing and treatment supplies at prices up to 65% less than those found at most pharmacies and suppliers.
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