Skip to content

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Thin Gene Raises Heart Risks

Gene Links Low Body Fat in Some People to Higher Heart Disease, Diabetes Risk
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 27, 2011 -- It's not how much fat you have, but where it's stored that may determine your health risk, according to a new study.

Researchers have isolated a gene in some people that is associated with low body fat but also a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, especially among men.

"In simple terms, it is not only overweight individuals who can be predisposed for these metabolic diseases," researcher Douglas P. Kiel, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says in a news release.

The study suggests that the gene lowers the fat found underneath the skin but not the more harmful fat that surrounds the organs.

"Genetic variants may not only determine the amount of total fat in your body, but also what kind of fat you have,” Kiel says. “Some collections of fat, such as the kind located just under the skin, may actually be less harmful than the type located in the abdominal cavity, which may increase the risk of developing metabolic disease."

Gene Lowers Fat, Raises Risks

In the study, published in Nature Genetics, researchers analyzed the genetic makeup of more than 75,000 people and looked at associations between body fat and the risk of metabolic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

The results showed a variant of the gene IRS1 was strongly associated with low body fat and unhealthy levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, two risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Researchers say people with this gene may be less able to store fat safely under the skin and may store it elsewhere in the body, where it may interfere with normal organ function.

"The effect may be more pronounced in men due to the different body fat distributions between the sexes, Ruth Loos, MD, of the Medical Research Council in the U.K., says in a news release. "Men store less fat than women, so they are more sensitive to changes in its distribution."

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
kenneth fujioka, md
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Middle aged person
Home Healthcare

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
type 2 diabetes
food fitness planner