Remember magnet day in elementary school? It’s always a fun day. Students get to see what metals will be attracted to their magnets and compete to see who can get the most paperclips to stick together. To kids, magnets can seem like magic.
To adults, however, magnets are usually only thought of when attaching kid art to the refrigerator. But magnets may have a new trick to show off: they are the key in a new procedure designed to treat type 2 diabetes.
How can magnets treat diabetes?
Magnets have been used to create a shortcut in the intestines through a procedure called partial jejunal diversion. In a European study, two sets of magnets were inserted into different parts of patients’ intestines using a colonoscope. The magnets were then maneuvered into place with a laparoscope, a fiber optic instrument that can be inserted through a small incision. Using these small, precise instruments means that this procedure doesn’t require a full-scale surgery.
Each set of magnets is arranged to form a ring in its respective part of the intestine. Over the course of about a week, the magnets draw the intestinal walls tightly together. Now, two previously distant sections of the intestines are wall-to-wall.
The tissue squeezed together by the magnets dies and leaves an opening, and now there is a passage where there once was an intestinal wall. The process has created an intestinal shortcut.
And the magnets? Once there is no longer any tissue between them, they stick together and make their way dow the rest of the digestive tract and are safely passed.
The procedure is similar to gastric bypass surgery in that it causes food to skip part of the digestive tract. Fewer calories are absorbed and, at least in this study, weight is lost. Weight loss is key to managing and sometimes reversing type 2 diabetes, but in this case weight loss is not the whole story.
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Food passing through less of the small intestine means that fewer nutrients will be absorbed and the body will not have as much glucose to absorb. This in itself may help mitigate post-meal blood sugar spikes, but the new intestinal secret passage that some, but not all, of the food will pass through will bypass the part of the intestine that secretes incretin inhibitors.