New York: While conventional wisdom holds that storing fat around your belly puts you at increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, a surprising new study suggests it may not hold true for all people.
The study, published in the scientific journal eLife, showed that naturally occurring variations in our genes can lead some people to store fat at the waist but also protect them from diabetes.
"There is a growing body of evidence for metabolically healthy obesity. In this condition, people who would normally be at risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes because they are obese are actually protected from adverse effects of their obesity. In our study, we found a genetic link that may explain how this occurs in certain individuals," said researcher Mete Civelek, from Center for Public Health Genomics at the University of Virginia in the US.
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"Understanding various forms of obesity is important to tailor treatments for individuals who are at high risk for adverse effects of obesity," Civelek added.
One of the metrics doctors use to determine if a patient has metabolic syndrome is abdominal obesity. This is often calculated by comparing the patient's waist and hip measurements.
But the research suggests that, for at least some patients, it may not be that simple. In the future, doctors may want to check a patient’s genes to determine how to best guide the person down the road to good health.
They might prioritise weight loss for patients whose genes put them at increased risk but place less emphasis on it for patients with protective gene variants.
"We found that among the hundreds of regions in our genomes which increase our propensity to accumulate excess fat in our abdomens, there are five which have an unexpected role," said lead author Yonathan Aberra, doctoral candidate at UVA's Department of Biomedical Engineering.
"To our surprise, these five regions decrease an individual’s risk for Type 2 diabetes."
As medicine grows more sophisticated, understanding the role of naturally occurring gene variations will play an important role in ensuring patients get the best, most tailored treatments.