Researchers discover protein that determines body types associated with type 2 diabetes

A single protein may be responsible for determining whether a person is pear-shaped or apple-shaped, according to a new study from a team of British researchers. The finding could also help doctors understand why some people are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than others.

Excess fat around the torso gives a person an apple shape. More than just a cosmetic issue, this has been shown to increase a person's chances of becoming diabetic and suffering from other cardiovascular and metabolic problems. Healthier fat that can quickly be converted to energy is generally stored around the hips, creating the pear shape.

The team from the University of Edinburgh reported in the journal Diabetes that people who have apple-shaped bodies tend to have higher levels of the protein 11BetaHSD1, while pear-shaped individuals have lower levels of the protein.

The researchers believe that the protein may play a role in deciding the type of fat that excess food energy is turned into and directing where it is stored in the body.

"This study opens up new avenues for research and gives us a much better idea of why some fat in the body becomes unhealthy while other fat is safely stored for energy," said Nik Morton, who led the study. "Limiting the presence of this protein could help combat this."

Previous studies have linked this protein to higher levels of hormones associated with obesity. Some researchers are currently working on medications that block 11BetaHSD1. Investigations have shown that fat with higher levels of the protein tends to cause more inflammation in surrounding tissue, which is one of the main causes of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.