The Risk of a Pear-Shaped Body

PearsFor years, medical research has suggested that having an apple-shaped figure or “beer belly” is more of a health risk than having a pear-shaped body (carrying more weight in the hips, buttocks, and thighs).  An apple-shaped body is considered unhealthy because it has more fat stored around vital organs, a risk factor for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.  Pear-shaped people are not believed to have these same level of risks based on body type.  However, a new study from UC Davis Health System, provides evidence that the protective benefits of having a pear-body shape may be more fiction than reality. Researchers found that fat called gluteal adipose tissue, which is stored in the buttocks, secretes abnormal levels of proteins named chemerin and omentin-1. These proteins that can lead to inflammation and the prediabetic condition known as insulin resistance, in people with early metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a name for a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. It is becoming more and more common in the United States, with an estimated 35 percent of American adults over age 20 being affected by the syndrome, according to the CDC.  The risk factors for metabolic syndrome include central obesity (apple-shape), low high-density lipoproteins (HDL), high triglycerides, high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar.  The study found that in people with early metabolic syndrome (defined as having at least three risk factors for metabolic syndrome), gluteal adipose tissue secreted higher levels of chemerin, and low levels of omentin-1.

Why do these altered levels matter? High chemerin levels correlated with higher levels of C-reactive protein (which is a sign of inflammation), elevated triglycerides, low levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Low omentin-1 levels correlated with low levels of “good” cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides and blood glucose levels. The study authors concluded that the findings help to dispel the myth that the fat associated with a pear-shape is ‘innocent.’ The findings also suggest that abnormal protein levels may be an early indicator to identify those at risk for developing metabolic syndrome.  Dr. Tom Umbach, bariatric surgeon in Las Vegas, said of the findings: “No matter how we rationalize it, there is no such thing as being overweight in a good way.  Another urban myth bites the dust.”

You can learn more about metabolic syndrome including the symptoms, diagnosis, and  treatment of the condition here.

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