People who underwent one of two stomach-reducing procedures were three to four times more likely to have their blood sugar drop to normal levels after one year of treatment compared with people who received intensive medical therapy alone.
Some people who had surgery got better so quickly that they were able to stop taking their diabetes medication before even leaving the hospital, says study head Philip Schauer, MD, director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.
They "were eventually weaned off all their diabetes medication -- as close to the definition of remission as you can get," Schauer tells WebMD.
"Bariatric [weight loss] surgery works and works well -- for both obesity and diabetes," Schauer says.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology and simultaneously published online by The New England Journal of Medicine.
About 80% of the 23 million American adults living with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.
High blood sugar is a major risk factor for a host of diabetes complications, including heart attack, amputation, kidney failure, and blindness.
In one recent study, 89% of people with type 2 diabetes who underwent gastric bypass surgery went into remission and 57% were still in remission after five years.
The new study, called STAMPEDE, involved 150 people -- two-thirds of whom were women -- with a body mass index (BMI) between 27 and 43. They were divided into three groups. Two groups received surgery: either gastric bypass, which surgically reduces the stomach size and reroutes food to bypass part of the small intestine; or sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that surgically reduces the stomach by about 75%. Both procedures require about two or three days in a hospital and two to four weeks of recovery time.
The third group got intensive medical therapy for diabetes, which included various types of oral medications or injectables, including insulin.