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Big Hips, ‘Bottom’ May Protect Against Diabetes

May 13, 2008

Women trying to shrink their big bootys should think again because body fat found on the buttocks may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, new research suggests. Researchers at the JoslinDiabetesCenter have found that subcutaneous fat can reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity.

Harvard researchers say that a little extra fat around the body in locations other than the abdomen area may reduce the insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity. This was an unexpected finding because belly-fat has long been associated with an increased risk for type-2 diabetes.

The Harvard Medical School study compared subcutaneous fat (on the buttocks) to visceral fat (around the waist and organs) and found the later was more harmful to health.

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. By contrast, transplantation of abdominal fat into either the abdominal or subcutaneous area had no effect.

The subcutaneous fat, which is more commonly found on women’s legs and buttocks than men’s, has also been shown to improve the production on the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels and adipokines which boost the metabolism.

Professor Ronald Khan, who led the research, said: “The surprising thing was that it wasn’t where the fat was located, it was the kind of fat that was the most important. “Even more surprising, it wasn’t that abdominal fat was exerting negative effects, but that subcutaneous fat was producing a good effect.”

Dr David Haslam, from the National Obesity Forum, has said that this new research may create distrust in the Body Mass Index (BMI) to asses a person’s weight as healthy or unhealthy, as it does not specify different types of fat.
Haslam says it is still important that people try to control their weight through healthy eating and exercise because these activities would still combat visceral fat levels and not subcutaneous.

Medical director of the charity Weight Concern, Dr Ian Campbell, said: “If there is something about subcutaneous fat which is protective, and actually decreases insulin resistance, this could help open up a whole new debate on the precise role fat has on our metabolism.”

In earlier studies researchers found that liposuction did not improve any aspect of metabolic syndrome. It was also known that obese individuals with high levels of both intra-abdominal and subcutaneous fat were more insulin sensitive than those with only high levels of intra-abdominal fat

It is unclear why subcutaneous fat is beneficial. It is possible that the fat produces certain hormones, known as adipokines, which has beneficial effects on metabolism. These effects may offset the negative effects produced by abdominal fat.
The paper concludes that subcutaneous fat is intrinsically different from visceral fat and may produce substances that can improve glucose metabolism.

The research could help explain why thiazoladines benefit diabetic patients. The drug may cause patients to gain weight in the subcutaneous area, while improving insulin sensitivity.

Cell Metabolism, May 2008l