Bariatric surgery may reverse the shrinkage of telomeres, the caps on the ends of each strand of DNA that are considered markers for biological aging, according to a small, preliminary study presented at Obesity Week 2013. “This is the first study to demonstrate that surgical weight loss leads to decreased aging by increasing telomere length,” said lead author John M. Morton, MD, MPH, director of bariatric surgery, Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. He and his colleagues presented the findings at the first annual joint meeting of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and The Obesity Society.
Over the past decade, there has been increased attention focused on telomeres. Often likened to the tips on the ends of shoelaces, telomeres are responsible for maintaining chromosome stability. Every time cells replicate, the telomere frays and shortens, losing some genetic material in the process. Shortened telomeres have been linked to higher rates of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and mortality. Obesity is one of the drivers of telomere shortening and experiments in mice suggest that obesity increases the formation of reactive oxygen species in fat cells and shortens telomeres (Ahima RS. Nat Med 2009;15:996-997). Based on these findings, Dr. Morton and his colleagues set out to look at whether weight loss induced by bariatric surgery could influence telomere length. They studied 55 patients (mean age, 48.5 years) who underwent laparoscopic gastric bypass for obesity and telomere analysis by Telomere Diagnostics, Inc.
Overall, patients’ telomere length remained relatively stable, measuring 0.987 (relative to 1.0) preoperatively and 0.982 one year after surgery (P=0.764). But specific groups of patients showed remarkable improvements in telomere length, particularly those with the highest preoperative levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and C-reactive protein (CRP). “What this study showed, as I interpret it, is that the gastric bypass and resultant weight loss led to restoration of telomere function and chromosomal preservation. If indeed the weight loss does have a positive effect on preservation of DNA and how it functions, that is a remarkable finding.”
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