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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Johns Hopkins: Study Suggests Weight Loss Surgery May Release Toxic Compounds From Fat Into the Bloodstream

Toxic man-made chemicals — such as polychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine pesticides — that are absorbed into the body and stored in fat may be released into the bloodstream during the rapid fat loss that follows bariatric surgery, according to a study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The finding points to the need for further research to understand the health effects of this potential toxicant exposure.

For the study, published online November 5 in Obesity, the researchers examined 26 people undergoing bariatric weight loss surgery, and found evidence of post-surgery rises in the bloodstream levels of environmental toxicants that are known to be stored long term in fat, including PCBs, (or polychlorinated biphenyls) organochlorine pesticides, and PCB-like polybrominated diphenyl ethers. The study also revealed that participants born before 1976 — when most of these chemical compounds were still widely used — tended to have much higher bloodstream levels of the chemicals, compared to younger participants.

About 16 million people in the U.S. are morbidly obese, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 35 kg/m2. Their extreme overweight condition confers a relatively high risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and many cancers. More than 200,000 bariatric surgeries are now performed in the country every year.

Dr. John Groopman, the Edyth H. Schoenrich Professor in Preventive Medicine at the Bloomberg School, is the study’s senior author.

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