Researchers Find Certain Body Fat Reduces Insulin Resistance

Armen Hareyan's picture
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It has long been known that type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity, particularly fat inside the belly. Now, researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center have found that fat from other areas of the body can actually reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity.

In a study published in the May issue of Cell Metabolism, a team lead by C. Ronald Kahn, M.D. found that subcutaneous fat -- fat found below the skin, usually in the hips and thighs -- is associated with reduced insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity.

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"This points to a new opportunity to find substances made by subcutaneous fat that may actually be good for glucose metabolism,'' said Dr. Kahn, Head of the Joslin Research Section on Obesity and Hormone Action and the Mary K. Iacocca Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "If we can identify how subcutaneous fat does this, we will have a big clue as to where to look for these substances."

Kahn noted that obesity in the abdominal or visceral area -- the classic "beer belly" or "apple" shape -- increases the risk of diabetes and mortality, and said it has been thought that obesity in subcutaneous areas -- the "pear" shape -- might decrease such risks.

"We started out to answer the basic question of whether fat inside the belly is bad for you because of where it is located, or is abdominal fat itself different from fat in other places," said Kahn, an internationally recognized researcher in diabetes and metabolism.

To test if the differences were due to anatomic location or intrinsic properties of the fat deposits themselves, transplantations were performed in mice. The researchers found that when subcutaneous fat was transplanted into the abdominal area, there was a decrease in body weight, fat mass, glucose and insulin levels and an improvement in insulin sensitivity.

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