Slim and sick from certain genes

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Gene variant discovered: increased risk of disease for slim people

A certain gene variant has a major influence on the formation of body fat and the risk of diabetes and heart diseases. The same genes that make people leaner are responsible for health-threatening blood sugar and cholesterol levels and thus increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to the study published in the current issue of the journal "Nature Genetics" by an international research group led by by Ruth Loos of the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Cambridge, UK.

Obesity is one of the main risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Conversely, slim people were assumed to have a generally lower risk of illness. However, when analyzing the genetic makeup of more than 76,000 people, the international team of researchers found that a certain gene variant simultaneously contributes to a lower body fat percentage and an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Thus, slim people could actually be at a similarly high health risk as overweight or obese people, report Ruth Loos and colleagues in the journal "Nature Genetics".

Lower body fat percentage, increased risk of disease In their investigations, the international research group came across a certain gene variant, which entails both a lower body fat percentage and an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The current study results are in contradiction to the previous assumption that slim people are generally less at risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, the new findings also provide an explanation of why some people, despite being massively overweight, do not fall ill and why slim people can also be exposed to an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to the experts. When evaluating the data from 26 different studies from ten different countries, the researchers took a closer look at the genetic makeup of over 76,000 people and discovered a variant of the IRS1 gene that makes a significant contribution to reducing body fat, but at the same time increasing blood sugar. and cholesterol levels, which significantly increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The researchers suspect that the gene variant only reduces the amount of subcutaneous fat, but does not prevent fat storage in the organs.

Fat storage in the organs This is how the fat storage occurs instead of on the visible parts of the body, in the case of people with the special gene variant rather in the organs, which entails the health risks mentioned, the researchers explain. "We don't know for sure yet, but we assume that these people store the fat in other places, such as in the liver or muscles," explained Ruth Loos. Those affected look slim, but are also at increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Because the discovered gene variant affects "not only the total amount, but also the type of fat in the body", the researcher continues. Ruth Loos explained that the scientists made a "truly fascinating" discovery when they "examined the unexpected effects of this gene." Men with a special variant of the IRS1 gene in particular generally had a lower body fat percentage, but suffered disproportionately from type -2 diabetes and heart disease. Her study shows that "not only obese people are susceptible to these conditions", but also lean people are sometimes exposed to an increased diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk, reports Ruth Loos from the MRC.

Effects of the gene variant are gender-specific The experts attribute the fact that the effects of the special gene variant to be extremely different in men and women are due to a generally different body fat formation in the sexes. Men naturally tend to have less fat deposits than women, so the effects of the discovered gene variant can be particularly serious for them, said MRC researcher Loos. In addition, the experts warn against the current study results that any health risks are passed on to the hereditary system and, accordingly, that they do not assume personal responsibility. According to the experts, nutritional behavior and physical activity continue to be major factors influencing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Although the genes would "make us susceptible to certain diseases", eating behavior and physical activity also "play a major role in health", emphasized Ruth Loos. The recommendations for a balanced diet and regular physical activities remain, but should apply even more to slim people with the special gene variant, according to the experts. (fp)

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Image: Dieter Schütz /

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