Researchers find that increased levels of an enzyme in fat cells lead to dangerous levels of abdominal obesity.
Previous studies have shown that the stress hormone cortisol can lead to an accumulation of fat round the abdomen. For instance, people with Cushing’s disease – where there’s excess cortisol in the blood – have too much abdominal fat. It’s bad for health to have fat in this area – it’s linked to diabetes and heart disease. That’s why it’s healthier to be a ‘pear shape’ rather than an ‘apple shape’. The distribution of fat in your body really does matter.
Researchers in Scotland and the US have now focussed upon an enzyme that produces cortisol to see what effect it has on abdominal fat. Working on mice genetically-modified to produce the enzyme – and therefore cortisol – in fat cells, they find that even a small increase in levels produces dramatic effects. The mice, compared with normal animals, gained fat in the abdominal area even on a low fat diet. They developed diabetes, high blood pressure, and also tended to eat more. It opens up the possibility of further studies on human obesity, and also perhaps could lead to therapies that block this enzyme and so reduce fat accumulation.