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Feast or Famine Protein Crucial to Diabetes Control

diabetes, exercise, nutrition, type 2 diabetes

Evolutionary theory suggests that in times of famine, the human body is less efficient at burning fat, choosing instead to store it in order to survive when food is scarce. Today, most Americans are less likely to have lack of food, but instead live as if every day were a feast. Unfortunately, our genes now are more likely to react to this excess calorie and fat intake and produce health effects such as diabetes and heart disease. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have turned their focus on a protein known as fibroblast growth factor 1 (FGF 1) which may open up new avenues for the treatment of some obesity-related disease.

Obesity rates have soared in the United States in recent decades, with more than one third of US adults and 17% of children and adolescents now considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With the rise in obesity comes an increased incidence of metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that nearly 26 million Americans are affected with this costly condition.

Fibroblast growth factors are involved in many areas including wound healing and embryonic development. FGFs also have an effect in the endocrine system as it is crucial to maintaining the body’s sensitivity to insulin and normal levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Ronald M. Evans, a professor at Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, also finds that FGF1 “governs the expansion and contraction of fat and thus controls the ebb and flow of energy throughout our body.”

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Jae Myoung Suh, a postdoctoral researcher, notes that mice depleted of FGF1 will develop an aggressive form of diabetes when fed a high-fat, “Western-style” diet. "These abnormalities cause abdominal or stomach fat to become inflamed," adds Michael Downes, a senior staff scientist in the Lab. "This is important because inflamed visceral fat has been linked to heightened risk for diabetes and other obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease and stroke."

The research may help with the development of new pharmaceutical treatments for diabetes. The team of scientists has found that Actos (pioglitazone) can regulate FGF1 and increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. But as these drugs do have serious side effects, individuals should also note that even though genetics may not be on their side, they do have some control over their condition.

Jae Myoung Sah notes that those same mice that have FGF1 depletion do not develop diabetes when fed a steady low-fat diet, emphasizing that lifestyle choices are still critical in managing these – and probably other - chronic conditions. For example, a study last year found that just eight weeks of following a low-fat diet will improve glucose tolerance even in the absence of weight loss.

The National Institutes of Health suggests making some of these simple dietary switches to lower the fat content in your diet:
• Switch from whole milk to 2%, 1% or skim (fat-free). There are also lower fat versions of other dairy products such as sour cream and cheese.
• Avoid highly processed foods that contain trans fat and instead eat natural whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
• Stick to lean proteins such as extra-lean ground beef, skinless white meat poultry, and water-packed fish. Avoid meats such as hot dogs and fried foods.
• Instead of high-fat baked goods, choose whole wheat crackers and breads. Skip over the butter, oils, and other fatty sauces and condiments.

Journal Reference:
Johan W. Jonker, Jae Myoung Suh, et al. A PPARγ–FGF1 axis is required for adaptive adipose remodelling and metabolic homeostasis. Nature, 2012; DOI:10.1038/nature10998