Bariatric doc says surgery can cure diabetes

Chris Michlewicz

A physician at Parker Adventist Hospital is hailing data indicating that bariatric procedures can act as a “surgical cure for diabetes.”

Dr. Matthew Metz, director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Center of Colorado at Parker Adventist, says results from a Cleveland Clinic study released last month show a 42 percent resolution of diabetes in obese patients one year after surgery. It also eliminated a list of other ailments associated with excess fat, and had patients going off medications used to treat those chronic conditions.

Metz says the study results further show tremendous benefits for patients with a lower body mass index, including those who are only 30 pounds overweight. Much of the data from earlier studies focuses on morbidly obese patients. The Cleveland Clinic analysis of bariatric surgery and its impact on the human body is among the most comprehensive.

Metz cautioned that not everyone is eligible for the procedure, and many health insurance companies require their clients to exhaust all non-surgical options before electing to go under the knife. Metz says every one of his patients consults with both a dietitian and social worker at the beginning of the process.

“People think [surgery is] an easy way out, but obesity is a complex issue that involves the endocrine system, thyroid, pituitary glands and what we’re seeing more now: genes,” he said. “There are also social factors that were not previously considered before obesity became a public health issue.”

Critics say the risks of surgery are too great, and that there is no substitute for proper diet and exercise. Metz, however, points out that the complication rate for bariatric surgery is roughly equal to that of an appendectomy. Additionally, the risks tied to morbid obesity, including diabetes, high cholesterol, heart attack, sleep apnea and stroke, not to mention emotional and quality of life issues, far outweigh other risks.

“We’re increasing life expectancy by eight to 15 years in these patients,” Metz said, referring to those whose diabetes has ebbed. “If more people had bariatric surgery, there would be less people losing their legs to diabetes complications, fewer people on dialysis and fewer people losing their eyesight.”

In fact, the rise is the number of procedures in recent years is staggering. Metz says that roughly 40,000 bariatric surgeries of various types were performed annually in the United States in the early 2000s, compared with 220,000 in 2007. A higher number of patients are going with a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, which is less invasive than gastric bypass and just as effective. Fewer and fewer doctors are performing the vertical banded gastroplasty that common in past years.

Still, some are unconvinced that surgery is the answer. They point to the nutrients that are unable to be absorbed into the body because crucial digestion sections of the small intestine are being bypassed. But Metz, who completed his residency at the Cleveland Clinic but did not participate in the study, says medical advancements and increased education are helping to dissolve misconceptions. Success stories are also doing their part.

One of Metz’s former patients, a 38-year-old woman who weighed 297 pounds and had a body mass index of 47 when she came in, suffered from high blood pressure, joint pain, depression and acid reflux. Within five months, she had lost 85 pounds and was off all of her medications.

“The pain and suffering associated with persistent medical problems greatly exceeds the temporary discomfort of surgery,” he said.

For more information on the Bariatric and Metabolic Center of Colorado, visit