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Skinny men also suffer from overweight related health problems

Being thin does not always mean that you are less likely to suffer from heart disease and diabetes.

An international group of researchers, including Erasmus MC researchers, discovered a gene responsible for the fact that some people, mainly men, are skinnier and have less body fat. This gene, however, also appears to increase heart disease and diabetes risk. This discovery is important for future types of treatment or prevention. The scientists publish their findings in Nature Genetics today.

To date, it was assumed that particularly overweight people had a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The international group of researchers have now, however, come to the surprising conclusion that skinny men can also be at risk. People with a particular variant of the IRS1 gene appear to be skinnier but nonetheless have unhealthily high levels of cholesterol and sugar in their blood.

Carola Zillikens, internist at Erasmus MC and one of the researchers: “In our attempt to understand why a gene that is responsible for keeping people thin is also harmful, we discovered that this gene variant only reduces the amount of fat under the skin and not the amount of fat around the internal organs. We therefore presume that people with this gene variant are less capable of storing surplus fat in a safe place under the skin. Instead, the fat will accumulate near the organs, such as the liver and the heart, where it can affect the normal functioning of the organs. This can lead to heart disease and diabetes.”

The findings were more prevalent among men than women. This could be caused by differences in build between men and women resulting in differences in the distribution of fat in the body. Zillikens: “Men store less fat than women and have comparatively less subcutaneous fat and more abdominal fat. This is why they are possibly more sensitive to a change in this fat distribution. This means that men who look thin can still have too much harmful abdominal fat.”