Bariatric surgery makes you younger

Last Updated : November 13, 2020

Obesity increases the risk of a number of serious conditions, not least, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. However, being clinically obese also hastens the ageing process, a fact which, over the last few years, has been pinned down to certain molecular processes.

Earlier research has shown that obesity increases levels of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) in fat cells, leading to a shortening of the telomeres – a marker of ageing. Telomeres are structures found at the ends of each chromosome, providing protection to the DNA. Each time a cell divides, a small portion of the telomere is lost. Once the telomere reaches a critical limit, the cell goes through a process of senescence (cells stop dividing permanently) or apoptosis (cells commit suicide). In other words, the rate of loss of the telomere is a good indicator of ageing.

It turns out that various lifestyle factors can increase the rate at which the telomeres are degraded. These factors include smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity and – obesity. Obese people are known to have shorter telomeres, but they also show other hallmarks of premature cellular ageing, including inflammation. A recent study at the University of Vienna, examined whether weight-loss surgery could reverse these cellular signs of ageing.

Results showed that not only did the patients undergoing weight loss surgery, lose a substantial amount of weight, they also showed a marked reduction in inflammation. Most striking of all, 2-years after surgery the patients’ telomeres were an impressive 80 percent longer in both cells and blood samples. In addition to measuring the telomeres, the research team also evaluated a process called telomere oxidation, one of the causes of telomere shortening. After 2-years, oxidative damage to the telomeres had been reduced three-fold.

The conclusion of this study and others, is very encouraging. Weight loss surgery can reverse the ageing process – and may do so in as little as 6-months. Whilst being obese puts stress on the entire body, the good news is that after weight loss surgery, the body can repair itself – and turn back the clock!

Dr David Ashton MD PhD

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