Recent research suggests that a certain kind of surgery may “cure” Type 2 diabetes. We find out more, and give you the facts.
One of the experts in the field of gastric bypass surgery is Professor Tess van der Merwe, the president of the South African Society for Obesity and Metabolism, who have been sharing information about the surgery. We found out what it could mean for Type 2 diabetes, then asked our experts to weigh in on the topic.
Is this surgery a cure for Type 2 diabetes?
Gastric bypass surgery has been used to help obese people lose weight since it was first performed 20 years ago. But now there is new research that this same surgery (specifically a type called “laparoscopic Roux–en–Y gastric bypass”) could cause Type 2 diabetes to go into long-term remission. What does this mean? Type 2 diabetes could be “paused” for a number of years. An international study shows that about 90% of obese patients with Type 2 diabetes who go for this surgery have normal blood sugar and no evidence of diabetes for three to fifteen years.
Is it a cure? No. But it is possibly a very long break from a chronic condition.
Some might say that any surgery that causes very overweight people to lose weight will have a good effect on blood sugar, but experts say the difference can be seen before the weight is lost. Professor Francesco Rubino (a leader in surgery for Type 2 diabetes) was in Johannesburg for the 3rd Centres for Metabolic Medicine and Surgery Workshop. He said that a few days after a gastric bypass, patients with Type 2 diabetes show normal blood sugar levels, even before any weight has been lost.
Ask the expert: Dr. Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“Bariatric surgery is becoming an important part of the treatment of diabetic patients with a BMI over 35. But although the results with this surgery are very good, it is still an invasive procedure with potential complications. It should not be considered a shortcut to weight loss and diabetes improvement, but a last resort after a low calorie diet and structured exercise programme has failed.”
What if the Type 2 diabetic ate badly and didn’t exercise, and returns to this same lifestyle – will the surgery still work?
The surgery doesn’t just help the patient by making their stomach smaller. It also triggers changes to the hormones, the appetite and the metabolism, so that long-term change is possible. But it is not a magical cure – the patient has to be ready to make changes to their diet and exercise. As Prof. van der Merwe points out, “There is not a single treatment in medicine that will be immune to an uncooperative patient.” In other words, if the patient goes back to a diet of fast food and no exercise, the same problems will return. One of the ways they guard against this in the Centres of Excellence (where they do the surgery) is by coaching the patient to start new, positive habits. They have a team of experts to help with this.
Ask the expert: Genevieve Jardine, dietician
“It is my opinion that gastric bypass surgery may be a good option for those who have a high BMI (above 35) and have tried for many years to lose weight. If they are managed well after surgery and take this opportunity to start over, it could mean a second chance at health. It is important to remember, though, that it still comes down to diet and exercise. Lifelong lifestyle changes are still the foundation of good diabetes management.”
How extreme is the surgery?
The surgery is minimally invasive. It is also known as laparoscopic surgery, keyhole surgery or bandaid surgery because the cuts made are so small – on average 0.5 to 1.5 cm. The doctor uses images on TV screens to magnify the surgery so they can see what they need to do.
Ask the expert: Dr. Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“Although the procedure is minimally invasive there are still some potentially serious complications. The patient’s decision to have this surgery must not be taken lightly.”
Is the surgery covered by medical aids?
That depends on how urgently you need it. In order to work that out, doctors look at your BMI (Body Mass Index), which outlines whether you are underweight, at a healthy weight, or overweight (see the box on this page). Diabetic patients with a BMI over 35 may be able to get the surgery covered if they have a motivation letter from a Metabolic Centre for Excellence, and if they are on the right medical aid option. There is usually a 20 to 30% co-payment that the patient would have to pay.
Have there been any local studies?
A South African study based at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital tracked 820 patients who had not been able to lose weight for up to 18 years before they had surgery. Three years later, 88.5% of the patients who had diabetes at the time of the surgery still had normal blood sugar levels.
Is there anyone it won’t work on?
This surgery is only an option for Type 2 diabetics who are very overweight – with a BMI greater than 35. They are doing research on lower BMI’s as well.
Want to find out more?
How to work out your BMI
There are many websites (http://www.smartbmicalculator.com/) that calculate BMI for you, but if you want to do it yourself, here’s what you need:
- Your weight.
- Your height in metres.
- A piece of paper and a calculator!
First, find out the square of your height in metres (your height times your height, i.e. 1,5m x 1,5m).
Then do this sum: (Weight in kg) divided by (square of height in metres)
You should get a number between 18.5 and 40.
- Less than 18.5 means you are underweight.
- 18.5 to 25 means you are at a healthy weight.
- 25 to 30 means you are slightly overweight.
- More than 30 means you are very overweight (obese).
Remember when low carb wasn’t as well known as it is today? We do! Here’s an article from Sweet Life magazine published a few years ago that explains all the ins and outs…
Professor Tim Noakes says that a low carb, high fat diet is the way to go. We gathered your questions and asked him how the low carb diet affects diabetics. Here’s what he had to say.
What exactly is this diet?
A low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet. This diet is most effective for people with diabetes – either Type 1 or Type 2, or pre-diabetes, like myself. It also helps treat obesity, but it’s obviously not the diet for everyone. The question is whether it’s for 10% of the population, or 90% of the population – I think it’s about 60% or more.
Low carb means no bread, pasta, cereals, grains, potatoes, rice, sweets and confectionery, baked goods. You have to be resolute – and the more severely affected you are, the more resolute you have to be. If you’re already diabetic, you have every reason not to eat these foods.
Can you explain what carbohydrate resistance is?
My opinion is different from the traditional teaching. Carbohydrate resistance is traditionally described as someone who is unable to take glucose out of the blood stream and store it in their muscle and liver. I disagree with this explanation: I think we’re all born with varying degrees of carbohydrate resistance, and the children who get really fat very young are the ones who are most carbohydrate resistant. The carbs they take in they simply store as fat. That’s the first group.
The second group are people who become pre-diabetic at 30 or 40, and then they become diabetic at 50. They are overweight, and that’s a marker of the high carbohydrate diet. They eat a high carb diet, they are carb resistant and it gets more and more severe until they become diabetic. I think it’s genetic, and the reason I think that is because in my case, although I’ve lost weight, I’m still carbohydrate resistant – I can’t go back to eating carbs.
What if you have high cholesterol? Isn’t it dangerous to eat so much fat?
Firstly, the theory that high cholesterol is a good predictor of heart disease is not true – it’s a relatively poor predictor. A far better predictor is your carbohydrate status. Everyone knows this – if you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, your risk of heart disease is increased. Diabetes, hypertension and heart disease are linked, but most heart attacks occur in people with cholesterol below 5. It’s very frustrating, because the public has got the wrong idea.
A high fat diet corrects everything, in my opinion – your HDL goes shooting up, your triglycerides come shooting down and that HDL to triglyceride ratio improves dramatically: that’s one of the better predictors of heart attack risk. The LDL small particles are the killers, and on a high fat diet, those go down. Your total cholesterol can go up, but that’s because your HDL has gone up, and the large, safe LDL particles have gone up. So unless you measure all those variables: HDL and LDL and triglycerides and glucose tolerance, you can’t judge the effects of the diet.
What carbs do you eat?
The good carbs are veg – that’s it. Sweet potatoes (not regular potatoes), butternut, squash and then I also eat dairy: milk, cheese, yoghurt. I don’t eat any fruit except apples, but that’s because I severely restrict my carbs. You’re not cutting out nutrients if you eat nutrient-dense foods like liver, sardines, broccoli and eggs – those are the most nutrient-rich foods you can eat. You can get vitamin C from meat if it’s not over-cooked. The key is that you eat lots of fat, and you don’t avoid the fat. I eat lots of fish, like salmon and sardines. And you want to eat lots of organ meats – that means liver, pancreas, kidneys, and brains if you can get them, but particularly the liver. Liver is very nutritious.
Is this diet possible for people who don’t have a lot of money?
You don’t have to eat meat every day – you can eat sardines and kidneys, for example, which are both very cheap.
Could the positive effect of a low carb diet on insulin resistance be because of the weight loss and not because of the new diet?
No, absolutely not. Because it happens within one meal – your insulin requirements go down within one meal, because you’ve shut off the production of glucose by not eating carbohydrates.
What is wrong with the old fashioned idea of a balanced diet? Why does it have to be so extreme?
If you’re diabetic, you have a problem with metabolising carbohydrates. You have to understand that if you want to live a long life and have minimal complications, you want to minimise your carb intake. Start at 50g a day. What that looks like is two eggs for breakfast, with some fish – salmon or sardines, and some veg. And dairy: cheese or yoghurt. That will sustain you until early afternoon. For lunch, I think you should have salad and some more protein and fat – and exactly the same for dinner. Chicken, cheese, nuts, salad, tomatoes, broccoli. It’s an incredibly simple way to eat, but you don’t get bored.
Once you’re on this diet, you feel so good, and you get rid of all these aches and pains and minor illnesses: you won’t want to go back. If you do go back to eating carbs you’ll put on the weight again. It’s not a diet, it’s a lifelong eating plan. It’s not a quick fix.
I think the diabetics who live to 80, 90, 100 are the ones who eat this kind of diet.
Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer
From the community: “Being both diabetic and pregnant makes it difficult to know what to eat – there are so many things I have to avoid! And I’ve been craving sweet things. Any advice?” Sameshnie Naidoo.
The diet for pregnant women with diabetes should be a healthy, well-balanced eating plan aimed at supporting the pregnancy and promoting blood sugar control. This is essential for the wellbeing of both mom and baby.
Of course, pregnancy and diabetes means that there are more foods on the “Do Not Eat” list, as your normal diabetic diet has a new list of things to avoid. But bear in mind that it’s only for nine months, and that it’s for the best possible cause: your healthy child.
Foods to avoid:
Here’s a list of foods that you shouldn’t eat when you’re pregnant because they pose a potential food safety risk and might make you ill or harm your baby.
- Soft cheeses e.g. brie, camembert, and blue-veined cheeses unless the label says they are made with pasteurised milk.
- Processed cold meats or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
- Refrigerated paté or meat spreads (canned options can be eaten).
- Refrigerated smoked seafood unless as an ingredient in a cooked dish e.g. a casserole.
- Raw or partially cooked eggs and dishes that contain these e.g. homemade mayonnaise.
- Raw or undercooked meat and poultry
- Unpasteurised juice
- Raw sprouts
- Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish
- The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommends pregnant women avoid fish high in mercury e.g. shark, swordfish, marlin. And limit intake of fish and shellfish lower in mercury e.g. prawns, canned light tuna and salmon, to 360g or less per week.
The good news? You don’t need to give up caffeine entirely. The AND recommends keeping your intake below 300mg/day, which is about one or two servings of coffee or tea. And of course rooibos is naturally caffeine free, so you can have as much as you like!
Being both diabetic and pregnant can feel restrictive from a diet point of view… When you’re lacking motivation, just remember that everything you eat your baby is eating too: so put down the junk food and pick up a carrot!
A note on cravings:
Whether it’s pickles and ice cream or other odd combinations, both cravings and food aversions are common during pregnancy. Although the exact cause is unknown, taste perceptions may change with hormonal changes. Cravings are generally harmless*, unless foods you crave replace more nutritious foods, or all you want is junk food. If broccoli loses its appeal, for example, substitute another vegetable that you enjoy and tolerate.
*Cravings for non-food substances like sand or chalk (a condition called pica) can be dangerous as they contain lead or other toxic substances. If you’re craving non-food items, consult your doctor.
Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer
From our community: “Can anyone tell me about madumbis for diabetics – good or bad for us, and how much can we eat?” Lynette Hitchcock.
Madumbis, amadumbe, African potato or taro – call them what you will, they are delicious! They have a rich, nutty, earthy flavour and a stickier texture than potatoes. Like potatoes, they fall into the carbohydrate group of foods and can be roasted, mashed or boiled.
The key to eating proudly South African carbohydrates like madumbis, roti, pap or samp in a healthy diabetic diet is portion control! Counting the carbs in your meals and being aware of the carbs you eat can help you match your medication or activity to the food you eat. This can lead to better blood sugar control.
Remember: Everyone needs a different amount of carbohydrate at each meal and/or snack – the amount that is best for you depends on your:
- physical activity
- current blood sugar
- blood sugar targets
Not sure how many carbs you should be eating? Ask your doctor or dietician for help.
|A general guide:|
|Carb limits for women||Carb limits for men|
|Meal||30 – 60g||45 – 75g|
|Snack||15 – 30g||15 – 30g|
What does this mean? A food that has 15g carbohydrate is called “one carb serving”. One slice of bread or a small piece of fruit each have around 15g carbohydrate, so they are equal to one carb serving.
One carb portions of Proudly South African foods:
|1 carb serving||50g madumbi|
|1 small roti (35g)|
|⅓ cup pap (60g)|
|⅓ cup samp (75g)|
|½ cup sweet potato (100g)|
|1 medium mielie (140g )|
|½ cup rice (50g)|
|1 x 15cm tortilla or wrap (35g)|
|½ cup pasta (100g)|
|1 slice bread (30g)|
|1 small apple (115g)|
As much as possible, try to stick to this portion size, with a serving of protein (meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans) and half a plate of vegetables or salad.
How to cook amadumbe: Scrub them clean and steam or boil until soft. Drain and cool slightly before removing the skins. Serve dusted with black pepper, a dash of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Yum!
Amadumbe in numbers:
100g portion boiled amadumbe has: *
- 600 kJ
- 5g plant protein
- 1g fat
- 5g of carbohydrate
- 1g fibre
* According to The SA Food Tables
I am a diabetic and live in Pretoria.
I have problems controlling my sugar and have to use Metformin 850. My problem is I have no idea when it is high or low.
Where in Pretoria can I find a government diabetic clinic? Currently I am unemployed and every time I go to the government hospital my sugar is 37,5 or around there.
I got a glucose meter from Sister Louise Pywell, but can not afford sticks. I know nothing in life is free. Can you please point me in the right direction? I’m having bad headaches and my left foot starts dragging as the muscle went numb.
I am 55 years young with Type 2 diabetes, I have such chronic burning feet day and night.
I am currently taking 450mg Lyrica and 60mg Cyngum daily but still have awful pain that makes me so depressed having to live like this, my quality of life is nothing with all this pain.
I also think I am making my family mad with all my complaints. But I really can’t live like this anymore!!!!
Please does anyone know of something else that will work please?