Blood lipids known as ‘ceramides’ serve as potential biomarker for predicting disease from an unhealthy diet

Measuring blood lipids known as ceramides may help track a person at risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases from an unhealthy diet, according to a new study. 

Ceramides are produced when the body metabolizes fat and works as signaling molecules for the cell membrane. They have multiple roles in regulating immune responses and insulin sensitivity. Past research has shown a link between an unhealthy diet such as eating too much red or processed meat with having unfavorable ceramide levels and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

In the EPIC-Potsdam study, the researchers tracked the occurrence of cardiometabolic disease from a pool of over 27,000 participants over several years. None of the participants initially had Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. They predicted a person’s likelihood of developing a disease based on their ceramide levels and diet. 

Results show that about 550 participants developed cardiovascular disease and almost 800 developed Type 2 diabetes. When looking at blood samples of participants, the researchers found the level of ceramide and dihydroceramide in the blood were based on the diet and helped predict disease.

“People who eat a lot of meat have a higher risk of diabetes. We have now shown for the first time that high consumption of red and processed meat was associated with unfavorable levels of diabetes-related ceramides. Our results suggest that the association between meat consumption and diabetes risk may be mediated by the influence on ceramide levels in the blood,” says lead author Clemens Wittenbecher in a statement.

Adds Matthias Schulze, head of the Department of Molecular Epidemiology at the German Center for Diabetes Research and senior author of the study: “Detailed metabolic profiles in large cohort studies help us to better understand the relationship between diet and disease risk. This ultimately contributes to evidence-based and more accurate dietary recommendations.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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