Weight-loss surgery may slow down aging process

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Gastric bypass surgery

Bariatric surgery not only means better quality life. It also could reverse aging at a cellular level.

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Bariatric weight-loss surgery can help patients finally lose the weight that dieting alone could not achieve, but even more, a new study has found that the procedure may also genetically reverse the aging process.

Researchers from Stanford University says it has to do with telomeres, which are caps found on the ends of chromosomes. These caps usually shrink and become shorter during the aging process. In some gastric bypass surgery patients, however, the telomeres instead grow longer.

Longer telomeres have been associated with genetically rewinding the process of aging, according to Stanford’s chief of bariatric surgery Dr. John Morton, who is also president-elect of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).

The study’s findings were presented recently during an event hosted by the ASMBS and the Obesity Society, called Obesity Week 2013. Although the study was small, Dr. Morton said that the telomere growth in the weight-loss surgery patients was 2 to 3 percent longer, compared with those who had not had the procedure.

Interestingly, the bariatric patients who also suffered from chronic health problems due to obesity, such as heart disease, were the ones who benefitted most, which Dr. Morton found surprising and indicative of the need for additional research into the genetic aspects of gastric bypass surgery.

The study is the first-of-its-kind to explore weight-loss surgery and its effect on telomeres. While scientists have long known that the surgery is very effective in terms of weight loss, Dr. Morton noted that this study is the first to examine the procedure at a genetic level.

As for the anti-aging effect on patients who had the procedure, they not only ended up losing a significant amount of weight, which obviously improved their appearance, but Dr. Morton said they also tended to look younger.

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The study involved mostly female participants who were morbidly obese and had an average age of 49, with an average body mass index (BMI) of 44.3.

After having gastric bypass surgery, which reduces the size of the stomach while enabling food to bypass the small intestine, the participants lost approximately 71 percent of their body weight on average.

They also lost over 60 percent of their levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) – a measure for inflammation – and their fasting insulin levels decreased four-fold. A high fasting insulin level often indicates the presence of metabolic syndrome, a group of medical disorders that, when occurring together, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Another significant finding, according to Morton, is that the participants who had high levels of LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) prior to weight-loss surgery, ended up having longer telomeres after the procedure than those who had low levels of LDL.

Cell biologist, Jerry Shay, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said this finding was not surprising in that most overweight individuals have significantly shortened telomeres – and, as people age, they tend to get shorter and shorter until they eventually die off.

By the same token, Shay is quick to point out that having short telomeres doesn’t mean you are going to die. It simply means something is going on in your body, as shorter telomeres can serve as a biological signpost for stress and damage to the body.

Accordingly, Shay warns that people should not look at gastric bypass surgery as a way to restore youth, especially since the patients in the study only experienced a lengthening of their telomeres of around 2 to 3 percent, which is well within the normal margin of error accounted for in measuring them.

In contrast, the researchers from Stanford who were involved in this recent study found that telomeres were lengthened enough to potentially have an impact on the patient’s health by genetically reversing the aging process. But they admit that additional research is necessary in order to confirm the results of their study.

SOURCE: The Obesity Society, Study Ties Surgical Weight Loss to Reduced Aging
Aging Biomarker, Telomere Length, Evaluated in Post-Bariatric Surgery Patients
(November 15, 2013)

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