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Body fat storage may be linked to Type 2 diabetes risk

18 November 2016

The way your body stores fat may influence your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease,a new study has revealed.

Fat storage linked to insulin resistance

Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that if the body isn't able to store fat correctly, a person may develop insulin resistance (where the hormone insulin can't properly control levels of glucose in the blood).

Insulin resistance can cause levels of glucose in the blood to become high, which in turn increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The researchers wanted to know how insulin resistance develops and why it occurs in some people, and not others.

In the genes

This study discovered that small changes in our DNA (or genome) were associated with insulin resistance. These findings might explain why some people who aren’t overweight can be at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

They studied almost 200,000 people, looking for a link between their genetics and their ability to control blood glucose levels. They found 53 parts of the genome associated with insulin resistance, and changes in these regions influenced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Looking closer at those specific genetic changes, scientists found that some of them were involved in the way the body stores fat. People with higher numbers of genetic changes had lower levels of fat under their skin – especially around their hips. The team believe that these people may be unable to store excess calories properly, increasing the levels of fat and glucose in the blood stream. However, the scientists acknowledged that this isn’t the only way that insulin resistance may develop.

Fat plays an important role

They also noticed a link between a higher number of changes in those 53 parts of the genome and a condition called familial partial lipodystrophy type 1. People with this condition tend to develop severe insulin resistance and lose fat tissue, especially in their arms and legs. They're unable to convert the energy they get from food into fat. Although these genetic changes don’t solely cause the condition, the link between the two emphasises what an important role fat plays in managing blood glucose levels.

More studies are needed to understand this balance between blood glucose levels and body fat, and what else might be contributing to insulin resistance. In the meantime, we would encourage people to maintain a healthy lifestyle through exercise and diet.

You can also readthe BBC coverage of the story.

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