Excess fat may cause genetic alterations that increase type 2 diabetes risk

High levels of body fat may cause chemical changes in DNA, according to a new study from Medical College of Georgia researchers. The findings could help explain the high prevalence of chronic disease among obese individuals, including type 2 diabetes.

The researchers said in their report, which was published in the journal BMC Medicine, that their findings help deepen the growing understanding of fat's role in the body. It used to be thought of as nothing more than a way to pad internal organs and store excess energy. However, recent findings have shown that it also plays a role in producing hormones, proteins and other key chemicals.

While these compounds all play important roles in the body, too much may cause harm. In comparing the DNA of obese teens to adolescents with healthy body weights, the researchers found chemical changes in two important genes, UBASH3A and TRIM3, in the heavier participants.

These genes have been shown to play an important role in the immune system. The researchers said that the chemical alterations they observed are likely to cause dysregulation of the immune system, which can eventually lead to chronic inflammation. This is known to be a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

The researchers were cautious to note that their findings do not necessarily specify whether high levels of fat cause the genetic alterations or whether specific genes lead to the accumulation of fat. However, they believe that their findings could provide a way for doctors to identify patients who are at the greatest risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Genetic testing for these alterations may diagnose patients who could benefit from making lifestyle changes.