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Why doesn't obesity always lead to type 2 diabetes?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Why don't all obese people develop type 2 diabetes?

Researchers are trying to uncover why some people who are obese don’t develop diseases like type 2 diabetes. There may be a 'healthy' obesity gene that protects some people from inflammation normally associated with being overweight. Scientists believe they could find a new way to treat diabetes and other chronic health problems if they can understand what happens when the gene is activated.

Enzyme responsible for 'healthy obesity'

The researchers gathered clues about why some people who are obese don’t developed disease; especially type 2 diabetes by examining genetically modified mice.

Xin Guo, a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M’s department of nutrition and food sciences said in a media release, "Previous research had indicated that a regulatory enzyme which is encoded by the gene PFKFB3 protects against diet-induced fat tissue inflammation and systemic insulin resistance.

Increasing evidence shows that fat deposition, or amount, is not directly associated with the inflammation or insulin resistance in the development of obesity-related metabolic diseases."

He adds, the 6-phosphorofructo-2-kinase (iPFK2) enzyme might be linked to inflammation and disease; explaining ‘healthy obesity’.

Guo points out that there are many obese people who are metabolically healthy, despite eating an unhealthy diet, who don’t develop type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions.

Conversely, thinner people can have the same sort of health problems that are associated with being overweight or obese.

In an effort to understand the difference, Guo and study leader Dr. Chaodong Wu and colleagues tried to find out what happens in fat tissue that triggers disease.

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"In our study, we learned overexpression of the iPFK2 enzyme increases fat deposition, suppresses inflammatory responses and improves insulin sensitivity in both adipose and live tissues.”

The researchers hope to find a way to activate the gene with a bioactive compound to supplement for treating type 2 diabetes.

He says, “It would also be a good idea to compare and contrast this research with studies done on what constitutes a healthy diet and the effect of such a diet at a cellular level.”

Isolating other genes in healthy obese people might also help, he says. Once the genes are isolated it might be possible to work with chemical research experts to find a compound that treats unhealthy obesity.

Understanding individual health risks associated with obesity is an important step. It’s not always about fat deposition, Wu says. Fat composition is also important. Wu explains, “We know fat cells secrete some of their own bioactive compounds that we may be able to isolate and identify for use in promoting health."

Understanding fat genes could lead to the development of dietary supplements or other bioactive compounds that promote health and prevent disease. More research is needed to understand why some obese people are healthier than others.

The study, to be published supports the notion that there is such a thing as “healthy" obesity. Understanding why obesity doesn’t always lead to disease could mean new ways to prevent chronic diseases; especially type 2 diabetes.

AgriLife Today
Is there a 'healthy' obesity gene?
May 31, 2012

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Updated November 11, 2013