Losing weight is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, especially with the new year in full swing. As much as dieting and exercise go into shedding a few extra pounds, a new study found that for some consumers, it’s all about their genes.
Researchers from Uppsala University found that our genes affect where our bodies are storing fat, though this occurs more often in women than in men.
“We know that women and men tend to store fat differently -- women have the ability to more easily store fat on the hips and legs, while men tend to accumulate fat around the abdomen to a higher extent,” said lead researcher Mathias Rask-Andersen, PhD. “This has been attributed to the effects of sex hormones such as estrogen. But the molecular mechanisms that control this phenomenon are fairly unknown.”
What’s in the genes
To see the ways fat is distributed throughout the body, the researchers analyzed data from the U.K. Biobank -- an international health resource that works to improve the prevention, treatment, and diagnosis of widespread diseases.
Nearly 360,000 participants provided blood samples for genotyping, and the researchers than determined how fat was stored based on the body’s resistance response to an electrical current. While nearly 100 genes were linked to how our bodies store fat, the researchers found that this process affects men and women differently.
“We were struck by the large number of genetic effects that were stronger, or only present, in females,” said researcher Åsa Johansson.
Men were found to have more abdominal fat, whereas women were found to have more fat in their hips, which the researchers attribute to a lower risk for women of developing cardiovascular disease. The converse was found to be true for men, as more fat in the abdominal area has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular issues.
The researchers are hoping this study can spur doctors to find new ways to be proactive in helping their patients prevent disease.
“The biological systems we highlight in our study have the potential to be used as points-of-intervention for new drugs that are aimed at improving the distribution of body fat and thereby reducing the risk of disease,” said Rask-Andersen.
Fighting belly fat
As the researchers highlighted in their study, more fat in the belly area is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A recent study confirms those findings, and emphasizes that even those of a normal weight that have excess belly fat are at risk for developing heart disease or stroke.
The researchers note that irregular fat distribution puts an extra strain on the heart, regardless of how much the person weighs, and doctors need to be using preventative measures to help their patients.
“General practices [GPs] should proactively look for cardiovascular risk factors so that comprehensive treatment and advice can be given,” said researcher Kornelia Kotseva. “GPs need to go beyond treating the risk factors they know about, and always investigate smoking, obesity, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.”