Revisiting Traditional Assumptions: Abdominal Fat Does Not Invariably Elevate Diabetes Risk

by Henrik Andersen
genetic variations and diabetes risk

Researchers have unearthed that inherent genetic variances can result in some individuals accumulating fat around their waist while concurrently providing a safeguard against type 2 diabetes. This disrupts the prevailing notion that belly fat is invariably linked with a higher susceptibility to diabetes. The implications of this discovery could lead to more customized healthcare interventions, potentially diminishing the focus on weight reduction for those with protective genetic traits.

Certain individuals possess unique genetic variances that not only lead to the storage of fat in the abdominal region but also serve to shield them from type 2 diabetes.

The widely accepted understanding has been that fat accumulation around the abdomen invariably elevates the risk of type 2 diabetes. Nonetheless, a groundbreaking study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine posits that innate genetic differences can induce some people to store abdominal fat while simultaneously conferring protection against diabetes.

This unexpected revelation facilitates a more complex view of the relationship between obesity and diabetes, along with other related health concerns. It may also pave the way for healthcare that is more individualized. For instance, medical practitioners may emphasize weight reduction for those whose genetic makeup increases their risk but may mitigate this focus for individuals with protective genetic traits, according to the study’s authors.

The study was led by Mete Civelek, Ph.D., from the Center for Public Health Genomics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. “We have observed an increasing body of evidence supporting the concept of metabolically healthy obesity. Our research identified a genetic underpinning that may account for this phenomenon in certain populations,” stated Mete Civelek. “Comprehending the different forms of obesity is essential for crafting interventions for those at elevated risk for the detrimental outcomes of obesity.”

As medical science continues to advance, the appreciation of the role of native genetic variations will be critical for optimizing highly personalized treatment regimens. The work by Civelek and his team, for example, suggests that such variations can predispose some individuals to abdominal fat storage—historically thought to heighten the risk for metabolic syndrome—while also offering them protection from type 2 diabetes.

One method currently employed by healthcare providers to diagnose metabolic syndrome involves the assessment of abdominal obesity, generally through the comparison of waist and hip dimensions. However, Civelek’s study suggests that such an approach may need to be reevaluated for certain patients. Future medical guidance may necessitate genetic testing for a more accurate healthcare trajectory.

Yonathan Aberra, the principal author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, noted, “Among the hundreds of genomic regions increasing our tendency to gain abdominal fat, five were found to have an unexpected protective role against type 2 diabetes.”

Moreover, the research undertaken by Civelek offers invaluable tools for scientists aiming to understand the multifaceted interactions of gene variations. The sophisticated methodologies devised by Civelek and his associates for identifying pertinent variations will be of significant utility for ensuing research in metabolic syndrome and other related conditions.

These methodologies may also be instrumental in the formulation of more effective treatments for metabolic syndrome, according to the research team.

“Future steps involve broadening our research to include more women and individuals from varied genetic backgrounds to identify additional genes responsible for the phenomenon of metabolically healthy obesity,” concluded Civelek.

The study was financially supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the American Diabetes Association, and the National Science Foundation.

Reference: “Predicting mechanisms of action at genetic loci associated with discordant effects on type 2 diabetes and abdominal fat accumulation” by Yonathan Tamrat Aberra, Lijiang Ma, Johan LM Björkegren and Mete Civelek, published on 16 June 2023 in eLife. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.79834

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about genetic variations and diabetes risk

What is the main focus of the University of Virginia’s research?

The main focus is to investigate the relationship between abdominal fat and type 2 diabetes, specifically looking at how certain genetic variations may protect individuals from diabetes despite the accumulation of abdominal fat.

Does the study challenge conventional medical wisdom?

Yes, the study challenges the conventional medical belief that abdominal fat is universally associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What could be the implications of this research for personalized healthcare?

The findings could lead to more personalized healthcare interventions, with a potential shift away from an overarching emphasis on weight loss to an approach that considers individual genetic makeup.

Who led the study at the University of Virginia?

The study was led by Mete Civelek, Ph.D., from the Center for Public Health Genomics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

What is “metabolically healthy obesity”?

Metabolically healthy obesity refers to a condition where individuals who are obese are nevertheless protected from some of the adverse effects typically associated with obesity, such as cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.

How might the study’s findings affect the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome?

Traditionally, one of the key metrics used to diagnose metabolic syndrome is the measure of abdominal obesity. However, the study suggests that for some individuals, the relationship between abdominal fat and metabolic health may be more complex and could require genetic testing for accurate diagnosis.

What are the next steps for this research?

The researchers plan to broaden their study to include more women and individuals from varied genetic backgrounds to identify additional genes that might contribute to metabolically healthy obesity.

Who funded the research?

The study was financially supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the American Diabetes Association, and the National Science Foundation.

Is the study published, and where can it be accessed?

The study is published in the scientific journal eLife, and the DOI for the paper is 10.7554/eLife.79834.

What tools or methodologies were developed during this research?

The researchers developed sophisticated methodologies for identifying relevant genetic variations, which could be of significant utility for future research in metabolic syndrome and other related conditions.

More about genetic variations and diabetes risk

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Sophia N October 7, 2023 - 7:59 pm

Cant help but wonder how long it’ll take for these findings to actually impact the medical field. Research is one thing, implementation’s another.

Jane Smith October 7, 2023 - 10:17 pm

Wow, this is really eye-opening. Who would’ve thought that belly fat might not be all bad? Def changes the game for personalized medicine.

Timothy L October 8, 2023 - 1:44 am

Hold on, not so fast. I’d like to see this research validated by more studies before we all start celebrating our belly fat, you know?

Sarah K October 8, 2023 - 2:38 am

Fascinating research! It’s high time we moved away from one-size-fits-all medical advice. Each person is unique, and it’s great to see science is catching up.

Greg P October 8, 2023 - 9:45 am

So if I got it right, the focus here is more on future medical treatments being tailored for each individual? That’s actually a cool idea.

Alan J October 8, 2023 - 11:31 am

Who funded this research? Always a good question to ask. According to the article, it looks like multiple organizations, including the American Diabetes Association. Seems legit.

Mike O'Connell October 8, 2023 - 3:28 pm

so youre saying i shouldnt worry bout my belly fat? But then again, how do I know if I’ve got these protective genes or not?

William H October 8, 2023 - 3:35 pm

this changes everything, or does it? Gotta dig deep into the study to really understand the nuances, I guess.

Rebecca M October 8, 2023 - 4:02 pm

It’s really interesting how they’re looking into genetic variations. I guess it’s not all about lifestyle choices then?

Emily R October 8, 2023 - 6:16 pm

Very intriguing! But what about the other health risks of obesity, like heart disease? Does the study talk about that as well?


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