Diabetes Self-Management Blog

It has often been repeated that having a “pear-shaped” body, or one that carries excess fat in the hips, thighs, and buttocks, has health advantages over having an “apple-shaped” body, or one that carries extra fat around the midsection. But recent research conducted by the UC Davis Health System has called this assumption into question, indicating that people with both body shapes are at increased risk of metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of related conditions including insulin resistance, obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal blood fat levels. Having metabolic syndrome doubles a person’s risk for heart disease and increases his risk for Type 2 diabetes at least five-fold. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the syndrome affects roughly 35% of Americans over age 20.

To determine the impact of fat in the buttocks on the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, researchers recruited 45 people with early metabolic syndrome (defined as having at least three risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose levels, and high blood fat levels without cardiovascular disease or diabetes). A group of 30 control subjects, matched for gender and age but with fewer than two risk factors for metabolic syndrome and with normal glucose and triglyceride (a type of blood fat) levels, were also included.

Complete blood counts, blood fat, blood glucose, blood pressure, and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) levels were measured in all participants. Levels of chemerin, resistin, visfatin, and omentin-1 — proteins secreted by fat tissue — were measured in blood samples and in fat samples taken from under the skin of the buttocks.

The researchers found that levels of chemerin were increased and levels of omentin-1 were decreased in both the blood and fat samples of people with metabolic syndrome compared to those in the control group. Both high chemerin and low omentin-1 are known to correlate with risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes: High chemerin levels are associated with high blood pressure, elevated levels of C-reactive protein and triglycerides, insulin resistance, and low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, while low omentin-1 levels are associated with high levels of triglycerides and blood glucose levels and low levels of HDL cholesterol.

According to lead study author Ishwarlal Jialal, MD, PhD, “Fat in the abdomen has long been considered the most detrimental to health, and gluteal fat was thought to protect against diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. But our research helps to dispel the myth that gluteal fat is ‘innocent.’ It also suggests that abnormal protein levels may be an early indicator to identify those at risk for developing metabolic syndrome.”

For more information, read the article “Study Deflates Notion That Pear-Shaped Bodies More Healthy Than Apples” or see the study’s abstract in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. And to learn more about the metabolic syndrome, click here.

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