Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Melborne Monash U study - diabetes and obesity surgery

You have to understand that I consider the adjustable lap band a far superior WLS to any of the earlier procedures. It's much safer (about 10 times safer), inserts no staples into the body, no intestinal bypass (as is true of the gastric bypass) and is adjustable which can be a plus if the person does not experience the loss they wanted. But to sell any WLS with misleading statements bothers me because any WLS is serious surgery, even the lap band. I cannot help it.

I recently found out that the show, "60 MINUTES" is as misleading in Australia as it is in the USA. At least in Australia, they are a bit more civilized than they were in the USA and are advocating the lap band which is a MUCH safer surgery than the gastric bypass and they also pointed out that the sugar levels in diabetes could be reduced through a non surgical program like Weight Watchers. But the transcript of that show does contain a few whoppers (i.e. misleading statements - I'm being polite here) which I'd like to go over here. Also I'd like to talk a bit about the Monash study which is now available to read on the AMA site.

First the 60 minutes show in Australia.

Statement: Weight loss surgery cures diabetes and they quoted the study as a backup and a WLS surgeon also confirming it.

REALITY: That's false. Because diabetes is a genetic disease so only changing your genes will cure it.

Not surprising, the study from Monash did not use the word "cure". They used the word "remission". Here is a statement from their study abstract:

Remission of type 2 diabetes was achieved by 22 (73%) in the surgical group and 4 (13%) in the conventional-therapy group.

We will return to this study later but first more misleading statements from "60 minutes".

statement: "That lifestyle, though, has led to him getting diabetes"

REALITY: FALSE. Diabetes is a gene. While there is some evidence that a healthy lifestyle which includes daily exercise and slight calorie restriction can delay the need for medication, it is also true that 33 percent of type II diabetics have never been fat in their lives and many of those exercise a lot.

statement: "if he doesn't have surgery, the diabetes will get worse"

REALITY: The diabetes will get worse regardless of what treatment he has because it's a gene and the pancreas gets progressively worn out as a person ages.

Statement: that you must lose weight to "cure" the diabetes.

REALITY: As we said before diabetes is a gene and not curable. And if losing weight "cures" diabetes, how do we explain the 33 percent of folks with type II diabetes who have never been fat? (I know several of these myself actually).

Finally: Statement: the suggestion - they didn't say this but strongly implied it - that WLS and/or weight loss would cure the erectile dysfunction often seen with diabetes.

REALITY: Weight loss doesn't do a thing for erectile dysfunction- don't expect a remission on that if you have it.

Now let's talk a bit about the study. It was a randomized study - this is good and appears to have been a clinical study i.e. the cohort were examined periodically by the researchers. Participants were divided into two groups. One group was given diet and exercise advice and the other group was given the same advice with the addition of lap band surgery. No one was paid for participating in the study. And the study lasted 2 years. The results were that whereas a remission of symptoms (as decided by the A1C) was observed in both groups, the percentage of remission was significantly higher in the lap band group. (13 percent in the non surgical group and 73 percent in the surgical group).

As far as the study went, it seemed better designed than some but here are what I see as the shortcomings, some of which could still be "fatal flaws".

  • The cohort was small - only 60 people, 55 of whom completed the study at the 2 year point. The researchers themselves stated that larger studies needed to be done.
  • None of those in the cohort had been diagnosed diabetes more than 2 years ago i.e. they were very newly diagnosed. This is a time when it's relatively easy with mild lifestyle changes including dietary modifications and cardio at least 5 days a week to keep the A1C at normal. Where the problems really begin is after several years. For example, a diabetic family member kept his A1C normal for 13 years with no medications (after that, he required oral meds).
  • Lifestyle changes were self reported so we have no idea if the "controls" in the study i.e. the non ops were really exercising as much as they said. Probably they didn't.
We have two things going here. The researchers never claimed a cure - they claimed a remission only. The cure part was a misreprensentation on the part of the media and sadly enough the WLS surgeon interviewed in the media.

Second, we by seredipity found out something very interesting about surgery and diabetes. This family member, my hubby, diagnosed 14 years ago, had a brain hemorrhage in Feb - and no, his team of doctors assured us that it was NOT caused by diabetes or hypertension. He had surgery to insert a shunt to drain his spinal cord fluid and went home a day later. In the ICU, his sugar levels were extremely high - stress was apparently a major factor in that. (another interesting thing we learned about diabetes).

But very oddly enough, even after having totally unrelated surgery (but surgery in which he was intubated etc), by the time he got home, his sugar levels totally tanked! So he went on a fun food kick, eating all the things he had been denying himself for 14 years: Dairy Queen, fast food every night, desserts, ice cream whatever. And every morning for about 3 weeks, even with his bad eating and only minimal exercise (not daily), his morning sugar readings were at normal i.e. 80 or so.

But after that on the same non diet, they started to climb and finally he realized it was back on the old program of daily cardio and watching what he eats.

The suspicion remains however, is that somehow surgery seems to affect the sugar levels whether it's WLS or something totally unrelated. No one can really explain it but I think this is only temporary (the only reason WLS patients may sustain it is if they follow the lifestyle changes). And nice as his "honeymoon" with all the "bad foods" and couch potatoing was, I think he would not have chosen as his preference, to have the 13 days in ICU or the brain hemorrhage.

It's a shame that so many people buy the hype from TV without even checking it out (like pulling up the study etc).

As long as people feel there are quick fixes and easy ways out and "something for nothing" there will be snake oil salespersons right there to sell them something. Only with surgery, it may poorly affect the body for the rest of one's life besides possibly not being effective.

I guess my main concern is spewing forth extremely misleading statements about diabetes in order to frighten people into having obesity surgery.

Caveat Emptor - "let the buyer be beware" is a phrase which we seem to have forgotten in today's society driven by media hype.

No comments: