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Genes May Predict Fat Risk

3 Genes Play Major Role in Obesity, Body Shape
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 11, 2006 -- How well your jeans fit may be up to your genes.

The actions of three specific genes determine how many fat cells you have -- and whether these fat cells make you apple shaped or pear shaped. The findings come from researchers at Harvard's Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and the University of Leipzig in Germany.

"By looking at your genes, we can tell how fat you are and how your body fat will be distributed," says Joslin President and Harvard professor C. Ronald Kahn, MD, in a news release. The study findings appear in the April 10 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kahn and colleagues used new gene-chip technology to look for genes and gene activity in abdominal fat -- the kind of fat linked to disease -- and under-the-skin fat. They started by studying mice. Their initial results were so striking, they went on to test people.

Kahn's team got fat samples from nearly 200 people. Some were normal weight, some were obese, and some were very obese. Some had fat accumulation in the buttocks and thighs (under-the-skin) -- the pear shape linked to fewer health problems. Some had fat accumulation in the belly (abdominal) -- the apple shape linked to diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

3 Genes Govern Fat

The researchers identified three genes that had major effects on how much fat a person had and on where that fat piled up. The genes -- T-box 15 (Tbx15), glypican 4 (Gpc4), and homeo box A5 (HoxA5) -- are very important in the early development of the embryo. They play major roles in body pattern, face formation, and skeletal development.

"What is clear is that multiple developmental genes ... exhibit dramatic differences in the level of expression of [fat cells and cells that become fat cells] from different regions of the body," Kahn and colleagues write. "One of the most striking features of the expression of HoxA5, Gpc4, and Tbx15 in human [fat] is not only their [different levels of action in different fat deposits] but also their strong correlation with body mass index."

The researchers suggest that these genes play a major role in determining whether a person becomes obese.

Are genes destiny? Most scientists don't think it's necessarily so. Environmental factors -- including lifestyle -- affect gene activity. But Kahn says it's too soon to know whether people can change what their fat genes dictate.

"While we now can predict the fat pattern, we have no magic bullet to alter the outcome," he says. "With these new findings, we have identified potential targets for perhaps one day changing body shape. We don't have drugs to alter the pattern now, but perhaps in the future we will."

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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