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Bariatric magic unveiled: it is not the procedure nor the hormones, it’s all on calories

In a bariatric operation, a so-called gastric bypass, a large part of the stomach and the first part of the small intestine are disconnected. The patient needs to lose weight before the operation in order to reduce the size of the liver and the amount of fat around the internal organs. This usually takes months and sometimes tens of pounds of fat tissue. This is done to reduce the risk of complications. Normally, the patient follows a strict six-week diet of fewer than 1000 calories per day in order to achieve the weight loss. Previous research has studied the combined effect of the diet and surgery. What has been seen, in addition to weight loss, is improved blood sugar control, which has been considered a result of an increase in the hormones GLP-1 and GIP and enhanced insulin release. As a bonus, individuals with type 2 diabetes “recovered” just days after the procedure.

In many studies, bariatric surgery has been highlighted as an almost magical method for weight loss and reversing type 2 diabetes. One question that has remained largely unanswered is how the effect of surgery differs from the effects of a strict low-calorie diet. This question has now been examined by researchers at Lund University in Sweden in a study published in the journal Diabetes. By monitoring individuals who underwent a six-week low-calorie diet followed by a bariatric operation, they can for the first time show why several health markers improve. In a new study, researchers at the Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) and the Centre for Analysis and Synthesis (CAS) have for the first time studied the effects of the strict low-calorie diet and the operation separately. The results show that the diet alone accounted for the greatest positive effect.

By measuring several hundred metabolites in the blood (formed by carbohydrates, proteins and fats in our metabolism) before and after the low calorie diet and the operation, the researchers could see that the levels of the various metabolites after the diet went in the direction expected from a reduced food intake and improved health. The surgery itself caused very minor changes. However, a few unique changes were observed that generally were the opposite of those that happened during the diet. The researchers could link some of these effects to the stress that surgery causes for the patient, and this was supported by the fact that virtually all the changes had disappeared six weeks after the operation. The results are not to be interpreted as the low-calorie diet being beneficial in itself or that the operation is unnecessary. The procedure is necessary in order for the patient to maintain a limited food intake for a long period.

Associated professors Nils Wierup and Peter Spégel, stated: “What we previously thought was an effect of the operation is actually due to the diet. More than 90% of everything that occurred, happened as a result of the diet. Very little changed after the surgery”. The one most surprised by the results is Nils Wierup, who previously, unlike Peter Spégel, was convinced that it was the surgical procedure and the hormonal changes that accounted for the improved effect: “What we previously thought was linked to the gastric bypass surgery is actually not. I have had to change my viewpoint. It was very good for this project that at the start we had such differing expectations and hypotheses on the effects bariatric surgery and diet have on metabolism. We have therefore looked very carefully at all the results to elucidate the study from all conceivable angles”.

A low-calorie diet is usually not harmful. The fact that scientistss have now shown the effects previously associated with surgery actually arise during the preceding low-calorie diet, and not as a response to the surgery, may perhaps make gastric bypass surgery less magical. However, as a result of this, we can also point to bariatric surgery not having any negative metabolic consequences. However, the results also raised a new question from the researchers: “If metabolism is primarily affected by the diet and not the surgery, what then is the function of the hormones GLP-1 and GIP?”. The answers will possibly emerge from forthcoming studies in which the researchers will conduct a long-term follow up and compare their results in a European study.

  • Edited By Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.

Scientific references

Herzog K et al., Spégel P. Diabetes 2020 Jun 11:db200131.

Lim HS, Kim YJ et al. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 14; 12(6):1774.

Farias G, Silva RMO et al. Nutrition. 2020 Jun; 74:110746. 

Sivakumar J, Chong L et al. Obes Surg 2020; 30(1):119-26. 

Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
- Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998 (MD Degree in 1998) - Specialista in Biochimica Clinica nel 2002 (Clinical Biochemistry residency in 2002) - Dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006 (Neurobiology PhD in 2006) - Ha soggiornato negli Stati Uniti, Baltimora (MD) come ricercatore alle dipendenze del National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA/NIH) e poi alla Johns Hopkins University, dal 2004 al 2008. - Dal 2009 si occupa di Medicina personalizzata. - Guardia medica presso strutture private dal 2010 - Detentore di due brevetti sulla preparazione di prodotti gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di frumento immunologicamente neutralizzata (owner of patents concerning the production of bakery gluten-free products, starting from regular wheat flour). - Responsabile del reparto Ricerca e Sviluppo per la società CoFood s.r.l. (leader of the R&D for the partnership CoFood s.r.l.) - Autore di un libro riguardante la salute e l'alimentazione, con approfondimenti su come questa condizioni tutti i sistemi corporei. - Autore di articoli su informazione medica e salute sui siti web salutesicilia.com, medicomunicare.it e in lingua inglese sul sito www.medicomunicare.com
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