- A five-year study by the University of Virginia School of Medicine has revealed unprecedented detail about body fat
- Women – not men – who carry the gene KLF14 can be at high risk of diabetes
- The gene causes larger hips and tummies with fat distribution that affects blood sugar control
- The risk is higher for women who inherit the gene from their mothers
From Jessica Rabbit to Marilyn Monroe to Kim Kardashian, curvy-hipped women have long been the envy of many.
But a new study warns the lauded body shape may have a down side: larger hips are often caused by a gene that also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes in women – not men.
The gene KLF14 has a uniquely dramatic effect on fat cells that causes them to become larger but fewer in the hips and abdomen, making it harder to control blood sugar.
But, the researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found, this effect is only typically seen in women who inherited the gene from their similarly-shaped mothers.
Though a myriad of previous studies had found KLF14 lowered diabetes risk in women, the research team insist this five-year study is more precise than those before – and offers new avenues for treatments that could lower the risk for women.
Both TV star Kim Kardashian (left) and the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit (right) are known for their curvy hips. But a study suggests the lauded body shape could increase diabetes risk
Marilyn Monroe, another curvy-hipped star, may have had the KLF14 gene, which can cause larger hips and tummies in women, and could also affect blood sugar control
However, lead author Mete Civelek, PhD, admits the specificity of the results initially baffled him and his team.
It’s no longer a matter of how genes affect the body but of how genes affect specific parts of the body – and not every body.
‘There were moments when we scratched our heads and couldn’t really interpret the results,’ Dr Civelek said.
‘We had to come together with a large group of scientists from all over the world and hash things out. ‘Well, what about this? What if we look at it this way?’
‘One of the interesting things is that if you look at this gene in your fat, there is no correlation with your overall fat, with your BMI. The correlation is with the fat distribution. Those things really took time to figure out.’
The gene variation specifically affects tummy and hip fat distribution.
This defect in the way fat cells are created means that the women’s bodies are more likely to have problems using blood sugar, the researchers found.
This variation affects hundreds of other genes as well, causing a cascade effect that the researchers have not yet fully charted.
‘If you, by chance, inherit the risk version of this gene from your mother, then you’re at higher risk for type 2 diabetes,’ Dr Civelek explained.
‘If you’re a woman, then your risk is even higher – 28 percent higher than for a man who inherited the gene from his father.
‘For reasons that we still do not understand, this gene is more active, or increases risk more, in women than in men.’
The discovery suggests that doctors may one day target the gene variation with drugs to reduce diabetes risk.
‘KLF14 is one of the strongest known genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes in women,’ said researcher Kerrin S. Small, PhD, of King’s College London.
‘Now that we know where in the body and in who the gene is acting, we can start to look at … a potential strategy to modify risk of diabetes.’