Key to inflammation-related diseases like type 2 diabetes may lie in fat tissue

Obesity, and more specifically excess body fat, is a well known risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

However, not all types of fat are the same and some might not pose as great a risk, according to a new study from a Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine team of researchers.

Sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits have led to an explosion of obesity and its attendant illnesses in the past two decades. However, some people who become obese never experience any health consequences, which has been one of the most confounding issues to emerge from the trend. The researchers behind the present study believe that the answer to this question may lie in the type of fat people have.

For the study, which was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the team analyzed samples of fat tissue taken from 109 obese individuals and 17 lean participants. As expected, the samples taken from the overweight people generally showed signs of significantly more inflammation.

However, upon closer examination, the researchers found that a relatively small subset of samples from obese participants did not have excessive inflammation. Roughly 30 percent of these individuals actually had quite healthy tissue.

Further testing showed that these participants were less insulin resistant and had better vascular function, compared to their overweight and inflammation-prone peers.

Inflammation is one of the most important factors when it comes to the development of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. When tissue becomes inflamed, it gets damaged. This can make it resistant to the effects of insulin, which may eventually precipitate the development of type 2 diabetes.

The researchers said that obese individuals who exhibit no signs of inflammation must have some factor in their fat tissue that protects them from this type of irritation. Identifying this component of fat tissue could help doctors determine which of their patients are at risk of developing chronic disease and could even lead to the discovery of new treatment options that protect individuals from type 2 diabetes.

"Once we identify what harmful products adipose tissue is producing that is linked to causing systemic inflammation, we can explore treatments against it that could potentially combat the development of several debilitating obesity-related disorders," said Noyan Gokce, MD, the study's lead author.