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Small, early study found longer 'telomeres' in genes of patients with cholesterol and inflammation problems

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Nov. 15, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Beyond slimming the waistlines of morbidly obese patients, weight-loss surgery also may help reverse the aging process in some patients, turning back the clock on a key sign of decline in the body's cells, a small, early study suggests.

Investigators said the finding could be an unforeseen positive side effect of invasive weight-loss (bariatric) surgery for some people with cholesterol and inflammation problems. Such surgery comes in a variety options, all designed to prompt a dramatic shedding of pounds following intestinal rerouting or a reduction in stomach size.

The upshot: One year following weight-loss surgery, some patients were found to experience a notable lengthening of the ends of their genes' tips or caps, referred to as "telomeres." The wearing down and shortening of telomeres over time has long been viewed as a genetic indicator for aging. Meanwhile, longer telomeres have been associated with health and youthfulness.

"We know that we age on a genetic level," said study co-author Dr. John Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine. "It's not just about wrinkles. It's the whole system, in which our body replaces cells continuously. The more they divide over time -- or the sicker you are -- the more the ends get frayed. Like a cap on a shoelace.

"But now we found that some -- not all, but some -- obese patients who lost a lot of weight after surgery saw significant improvements in telomere length," Morton added. "This is a pretty unique finding that we haven't seen before."

Morton is scheduled to present the findings Friday at Obesity Week, the annual meeting of weight-loss surgeons and other obesity specialists, held in Atlanta.

In recent years, bariatric surgery has taken its place alongside diet and exercise as a possible intervention for those struggling to lose weight, particularly among the morbidly obese. Morbidly obese is defined as those people with a body-mass index (BMI) of at least 40. BMI is a measurement of body fat based on a ratio of height to weight.

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