Accumulation of belly fat linked to increased risk of metabolic disease

With obesity rates rising globally, a new study targets how belly fat is linked to an increased risk of metabolic disease. International researchers analyzed changes that occur in the body in response to escalating body fat.

King’s College London researchers studied how epigenetic marks in fat tissue change as belly fat accumulates. Epigenetic marks measure how the human body reads DNA to affect the way genes work. Researchers used samples from 538 individuals and combined genetic, gene function, diet and health data. They examined epigenetic marks across the genome and found nine genes that are highly relevant to metabolic disease risk.

Researchers found epigenetic changes through which diet can affect belly fat accumulation and epigenetic marks that translate genetic risk effects on metabolic health. “The findings also allowed the researchers to characterize the molecular changes that occur because of an increase in belly fat and the impact these changes have on gene functions and insulin resistance,” according to the college.

“With rapidly rising rates of obesity worldwide, it is important that we understand how elevated body fat affects us at the molecular level and how this translates to metabolic disease risk,” says Dr. Jordana Bell, reader in epigenomics in the School of Life Course and Population Sciences, in a statement.

Diabetes is the most common metabolic disease. These types of diseases play havoc with normal metabolism. Researchers say the accumulation of body fat deep within the abdomen is a greater risk factor for metabolic disease than body mass index alone. Previous studies only explored the role of epigenetic marks in overall obesity using body mass index.

“Our study brings us one step closer to this goal by identifying an epigenetic signature of excess belly fat, understanding its genetic and dietary triggers, and characterizing its functional impacts and clinical consequences for insulin resistance,” explains Dr. Bell.

Researchers also developed an epigenetic predictor of insulin resistance thanks to the results of the study. They related their findings to the clinical consequences of increased belly fat.

“It is exciting to see that when we combine many different layers of biological information, we can start to unravel the mechanisms which drive the state of our biological health,” adds Colette Christiansen, PhD, a researcher in the School of Life Course and Population Sciences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40% of Americans are obese.

The study is published in the journal Genome Medicine.

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