Caring Currents

A Big Butt May Keep Diabetes at Bay

Last updated:

May 10, 2008

So we know that being overweight in general, and having too much belly fat in particular, can put a person at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. This kind of fat -- called visceral fat -- wraps around the waist and organs and can lead to all kinds of health problems, including diabetes.

But who would have thunk that an ample derriere might be a weapon against this chronic condition?

Take it from no less reputable a source than internationally-renowned researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Joslin Diabetes Center, who reported this week that body fat found just below the skin -- and especially on the buttocks, hips, and thighs -- may help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Should you steal a glance at your parents' backsides -- or your own -- and start placing bets? Probably premature at this point: The study was done on mice, after all.

But the research may pave the way to shaking up some of the current thinking on the role of body fat and its link to type 2 diabetes.

Check this out: The researchers shifted so-called subcutaneous fat, often found in plentiful amounts under the skin, particularly around female's butts, hips, and thighs, and transplanted it to the mice's abdominal area. They detected a drop in body weight, fat mass, and blood sugar levels in the animals who underwent this procedure. And -- more good news -- the mice also became more responsive to insulin. That's an intriguing finding because a lack of response to this hormone is often the body's first sign it’s heading down the type 2 diabetes track. By comparison, moving tummy fat to other parts of the body had no effect.

Here's what really piqued the researchers' interest: It wasn't so much where the fat was located but what type of fat it was that appears to be the most important factor at work here. Likewise, it wasn't so much that abdominal fat was causing negative effects but rather that the subcutaneous fat was producing positive ones.

If researchers are able to pinpoint what substances inside subcutaneous fat improve glucose metabolism, it could have wide-ranging implications for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in the future.

For now, the, um, bottomline for folks who want to avoid diabetes remains the same -- regardless of whether you or your parents have a so-called "apple shape" (prominent stomach), or "pear shape" (fleshier butt, hips, and thighs): Eat healthfully. Quit smoking. Maintain a healthy weight. Oh, and -- regardless of whether it's large or little -- get off your butt and get some exercise.

Image by Flickr user Fimb used under the Creative Commons attribution license.