The possible causes of the enhanced risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) were examined in morbidly obese women with normoglycemia, impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) before and after gastric bypass surgery. Compared with age-matched lean women, plasma lipid and apolipoprotein concentrations of the obese women before surgery favored atherogenesis. The risk for CHD may further be exacerbated in the IGT and NIDDM groups by the prevalence of smaller and denser low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) particles. LDL size correlated negatively with plasma insulin levels independent of triglyceride levels, age, or body mass index (BMI). After surgery, BMI, plasma insulin, and triglyceride levels decreased, but LDL size increased, and LDL density decreased. Neither cholesterol nor LDL cholesterol levels were affected after surgery, but high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol was increased in all patients after surgery. Although the mechanisms underlying the changes in the properties of LDL could not be determined from this study, these changes appear to be of benefit in reducing CHD risk in these patients.

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