Body fat has different health risks in men and women – study

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New research from the University of Virginia (UVA) is shedding light on the different health risks men and women face by examining the differences in the genetic structure of fat deposits in the human body in order to do so.

The researchers examined the specific differences between the genetic structure of fat in men and women, which determines its effects on the diseases each sex is more likely to contract during their lives.

“Researchers Mete Civelek, PhD, Warren Anderson, PhD, and their collaborators have determined that differences in fat storage and formation in men and women strongly affect the activity of 162 different genes found in fat tissue. Further, 13 of the genes come in variants that have different effects in men and women,” a press release on behalf of the university noted.Different variants of some of those genes have different effects on men and women. 
Some of those genes identified have already been connected with conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

The findings are dramatic, as they help explain previously unknown different health risks that men and women deal with, but more importantly, they set the stage for targeted gender-oriented treatments which have the potential to be more effective. 

“Obesity is associated with a number of health risks, and how men and women store excess calories as fat makes a difference in how they have different susceptibilities to common diseases,” said Civelek, of UVA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint program of UVA’s School of Medicine and School of Engineering. “We studied people of different ethnicities and health conditions, and we found a group of genes that are different in their abundance between men and women independent of ethnicity or health status.”

Interestingly, previous studies had identified thousands of genes found in fat that appeared to behave differently based on sex, but the new research found significant differences in only 162. 

“By combining a variety of data resources, we were able to identify specific genes that could be targeted to elicit distinct therapeutic outcomes in men and women.” said Anderson, a member of Civelek’s lab.

Further testing revealed six specific genes that were particularly influential in terms of regulating the activity of fat tissue. “We can now focus on these six genes as potential therapeutic targets,” Civelek said.

The findings are particularly notable because there has been much research into sex differences in fat tissue in terms of its distribution (pear shaped vs. apple shaped bodies, for example) and other aspects, but the important genetic contributions have remained relatively unexplored.

“We believe our findings will be beneficial in precision medicine efforts to find drug targets that can help with specific problems that men and women face,” Civelek said. “For example, men are more prone to cardiovascular disorders and women to obesity. The fat genes we identified could contribute to the severity of those illnesses and how men and women respond to treatment differently.”





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