The findings could also advance the search for better diabetes
treatments that target the small intestine and not the pancreas,
"It is increasingly clear that the intestine is not just a conduit for
food transit," gastric bypass surgeon Francesco Rubino, MD, tells WebMD.
"We now know that it is also a very important organ for the regulation of
Intestine Produces Glucose
Several recent studies have suggested that weight loss surgery is a more
effective treatment for type 2 diabetes in obese people than standard
treatments for the disease.
Because weight loss alone cannot explain the rapid remission of disease in
many gastric bypass patients, researchers have looked for other causes.
One theory has been that surgery alters the expression of hormones that help
control appetite, blood sugar, and weight.
But studies designed to test this hypothesis have proven contradictory,
diabetes researcher Gilles Mithieux tells WebMD.
In their newly published study, reported in the September issue of the
journal Cell Metabolism, Mithieux and colleagues looked elsewhere for
"We know from earlier work that the small intestine can produce
glucose," he says. "We showed that with gastric bypass surgery you
essentially double the capacity of the intestine to do this."
By studying mice treated with either gastric bypass or banding, researchers
confirmed that the bypass operation was associated with increased production of
glucose, or blood sugar, in the small intestine, while gastric banding was
Gastric bypass surgery essentially produces a "double intestine,"
Mithieux says. The portion of the small intestine that is closest to the
stomach is bypassed so that it no longer received nutrients. The lower small
intestine is then attached to the stomach where it becomes the main nutrient
By surgically repositioning the lower small intestine, which usually does
not produce much glucose, it ramps up intestinal glucose production and
improves insulin sensitivity, he says.
Treating Diabetes With Surgery
Rubino tells WebMD that the findings offer important insights into the role
of the small intestine in blood sugar regulation.
"This doesn't tell the whole story, but it appears to be an important
piece of the puzzle," he says.
The gastric bypass surgeon is a strong advocate of using the surgery as a
first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes -- a position that remains
He directs the diabetes surgery center at the New York-Presbyterian
Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
"Surgery promises to be one of the most powerful resources we have to
fight this disease," he says. "I don't think it will be the answer for
everyone. But for patients with the right profile, the results can be
Rubino believes that the surgery can help not just diabetic patients who are
morbidly obese, but also people who are overweight but don't weigh enough under
current guidelines to be considered for the gastric bypass procedure.
"We hope to study this to see if surgery is better than conventional
treatment in patients who are moderately obese or just overweight," he
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