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Could Weight-Loss Surgery Help Slow Aging?

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

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But blood tests conducted at three, six and 12 months post-surgery revealed that, among the group as a whole, telomere length did not change all that much.

However, patients who had relatively high levels of both CRP and LDL cholesterol before the surgery did see a significant lengthening of their telomeres, when compared to those with low CRP and LDL levels pre-surgery.

"All the patients lost weight and showed big improvements in cardiac health," Morton said. "But those who had very high inflammation and bad cholesterol before surgery were found to have longer telomeres following surgery, when inflammation and bad cholesterol went down. And the lengthening wasn't so subtle. We're talking about real, significant improvements."

"What this suggests is that some bariatric surgery patients are metabolically receptive to positive change that can improve markers for aging at a genetic level," he said.

Morton said more longer-term research is planned.

Joseph Lee, associate professor of clinical epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City, reacted to the current findings with a degree of skepticism.

"Number one, it's a very small sample of patients," said Lee, a human geneticist. "It's difficult to make too much out of this. And number two, they measured telomere length within just 12 months of surgery. Now some people show telomere lengthening with age. Even some cancer patients show telomere lengthening. So is what they're seeing a true biological effect resulting from radical surgery, or is it due to a certain amount of experimental error?

"It's a very complicated issue, and I don't think it's really clear what this finding means," Lee said. "It's certainly an interesting concept. But it remains to be seen in follow-up, with a larger sample over a much longer period of time, what's really going on."

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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