In a first-of-its-kind study, Stanford University researchers said that surgical weight loss may turn back the effects of ageing at a genetic level.
Researchers reviewed genetic data of 51 patients before and after gastric bypass surgery. Most study subjects were women (76.5 percent), about 49 years old, with an average body mass index (BMI) of 44.3.
On average, patients lost 71 percent of their excess weight and saw their C-reactive protein (CRP) level, a measure of inflammation, drop by more than 60 percent (8.3 to 3.6) and experienced a four-fold decline in their fasting insulin (24 to 6), within 12 months of surgery.
These findings are consistent with previous studies on bariatric surgery, but researchers went further. For the first time, they measured the length of each patient's telomeres before and after surgical weight loss.
Telomeres are genetic bio-markers that play an important role in cellular ageing and in the development of disease. As people age or have chronic disease, their telomeres become shorter.
Researchers discovered after gastric bypass, certain patients' telomeres actually became longer. Preoperative patients with high levels of LDL cholesterol, the so called "bad cholesterol," and high levels of inflammation (CRP), not only saw these levels drop within a year of surgery, they also experienced significant lengthening of their telomeres, when compared to patients with initial low LDL and CRP levels.
"Obesity has an adverse effect on health, causes pre-mature ageing and reduces life expectancy. This is the first study to show that surgical weight loss may be able to reverse the effects," said study co-author John M Morton, Chief of Bariatric Surgery at Stanford University Medical Center.
"If your telomeres get longer, you're likely to reverse the effects of ageing and have a lower risk of developing a wide range of age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases, and certain types of cancer," said Morton.
In the high preoperative CRP group, there was a significant positive correlation between weight loss and telomere length and in the high preoperative LDL group, increases in HDL, the so called "good cholesterol," were associated with increases in telomere length.
Researchers measured telomere length using laboratory blood testing that targets and measures specific DNA sequences.
Researchers say further studies are needed to confirm the direct effects of telomere length on health outcomes.     

The study was presented during Obesity Week 2013, hosted by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and The Obesity Society (TOS).


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