Women with excess belly fat are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes as a result of a fat-controlling gene, new research has shown.
Researchers have identified a natural variation of a gene called KLF14 that causes some women to store excess fat in their bellies, making them prone to type 2 diabetes.
This gene determines whether excess fat in a woman’s body is stored on her hips or in her belly.
Women who had excess fat stored on their hips were free of the risk of type 2 diabetes while those who, as a result of the gene had excess fat stored in their belly, were at an increased risk of the disease.
Scientists already know that being overweight does increase the risk of diabetes but this research shows that not all fat is equal and belly fat is indeed harmful and poses a higher risk.
Obesity and Bariatric Surgeon at Apollo Hospital, Mumbai, Vigyan Jain, said visceral fat, also known as belly fat, is made of cells that secrete hormones called cytokines.
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Cytokines, he said, block the action of insulin, which is meant to reduce our blood sugar level.
“As a result the sugar level in our blood goes up and therefore the body increases the amount of insulin produced to combat the high sugar level. When the sugar level in the blood is high and the insulin in the body is high then we have what we call insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to diabetes type 2,” said Dr Jain.
The research, published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics, analysed biopsy and blood samples taken from 856 female participants alongside fat biopsies and genetic data.
The team also confirmed some of the findings in mouse models although these did not show the same female specific effects shown in human cell models.
Jain, who was not part of the research team, explained that even women who are not necessarily overweight but carry excess belly fat are still at risk of diabetes type 2.
“A body composition analysis will be able to best show if one has excess belly fat putting them at risk of diabetes type 2. BMI is often used but this is not accurate because this measurement may not be able to determine excess belly fat,” he said.
A measurement of your waist circumference will also give an indication of whether or not you have excess belly fat. A waist circumference larger than 88cm for a woman puts you at risk.
Jain said to beat diabetes, one needs to watch what they eat and exercise moderately so as to ensure that you do not accumulate excess fat around your waist.
Diabetes is a group of diseases that involve problems with the hormone insulin and result in too much sugar in the blood.
The most common types are diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2.
Type 1 is where the pancreas produces little or no insulin and type 2 affects the way the body processes blood sugar. Possible complications as a result of the disease include cardiovascular diseases, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage, skin conditions, hearing impairment and depression.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, 425 million people have diabetes in the world. Kenya had about 458,900 cases in 2017 with a prevalence rate of 2 per cent among adults.
The researchers plan to continue their study into the effects of the gene variation. They also envision the possibility of creating drugs to block its harmful effects.
The researchers explained that there are chemicals that show an effect on the KLF14 gene but that did not mean that one could immediately put these chemicals on the market as a drug. However, it gives them an opportunity to manipulate the chemical structures to possibly make them usable for humans or target them specifically to fat cells.
November is the diabetes awareness month.