By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/23/2011 1:18:29 PM ET 2011-09-23T17:18:29

Liposuction may do more than just slim down your waistline — it might also help your heart, a new study shows.

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Within three months of the slenderizing procedure, patients’ triglyceride levels had dropped an average of 43 percent, according to a report presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in Denver.

Triglycerides, fats in the blood, have been linked in other studies to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

The new findings were a surprise even to the study’s author, Dr. Eric Swanson, a plastic surgeon in private practice in Leawood, Kansas.

“It made sense that if you reduced fat mass that might reduce circulating triglycerides,” Swanson said. “But I didn’t think the effect on the body’s fat scores would be enough to make a significant difference in triglycerides.”

The prospective study looked at 322 consecutive patients (270 women and 52 men) who came in for liposuction and/or a tummy tuck. One reason Swanson didn’t expect to see a strong link between liposuction and triglyceride levels was that most of the patients — 78 percent — were in the normal to overweight range. Just 22 percent were obese.

“A 43 percent drop in triglycerides was dramatic and surprising,” Swanson said.

The procedure also led to a decrease in the numbers of white blood cells circulating in the blood, Swanson said. And this suggests that the removal of fat is reducing inflammation, which is also thought to be involved in the development of cardiovascular disease.

While cautioning that the study is small, cardiologist Dr. Nehal N. Mehta said its findings were very interesting and should prompt more research on the subject.

We already know that fat cells spew out inflammatory chemicals that have systemic effects, said Mehta, a preventive cardiologist at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

And while other research has shown that it is the fat surrounding the organs that is the most dangerous, this study shows that some improvement in cardiovascular risk factors can result when more superficial fat is removed, Mehta said.

One thing we don’t know yet is whether the effects will be long lasting, Mehta said. “I’d like to see what happens at six months, and at a year.”

Mehta doesn’t want the new study sending overweight patients out in droves to seek liposuction as a cure for cardiovascular disease. The best solution is still diet and exercise, he said.

Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of the new book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic."

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