New Delhi: Eating fatty food, even if you’re slim, could be deadlier than you think.
Fat hinders the effect of medicine and can cause the body’s invisible army of warrior cells to mutiny and worsen heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, reveal the results of a five-year study by a group of 10 researchers headed by a US endocrinologist who began her career at an Agra medical college.
The key culprit is a gene called PAI-1, roused like a terrorist sleeper cell, in this case by fatty tissue or free-roaming fat molecules, which come from fatty, fried foods or from being obese, report Preeti Kishore (39) and her colleagues in the latest edition of Science Translational Medicine.
“The important finding of this study is that even in lean adults, high dietary fat may increase the secretion of PAI-1 and alter the risk for heart disease,” Carey Lumeng, a University of Michigan pediatrics professor who reviewed the research, told the Hindustan Times.
“Understanding these mechanisms and identifying the fat-derived factors that activate macrophages (mutinous defensive cells) could lead to new targeted therapies for these conditions, which have increased to epidemic proportions globally but particularly in India,” said Dr Kishore, an endocrinologist at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, whose Indian partner is the Christian Medical College, Vellore.
With nearly 35 million diabetics, India—spurred by a genetic predisposition, poor diets and inactivity—leads a global epidemic of the disease. Cardiovascular disease is now the leading killer in the world and India, with diabetes being its leading cause.
The study clears what researchers called “the fog surrounding the murky relationship” between free fatty acids circulating in the blood and inflammation, the body’s self-defence mechanism.
Dr Kishore and her colleagues injected healthy, non-diabetic adults with fats typically seen in obese people and those with diabetes. The effects of this were: the healthy bodies stopped responding effectively to insulin, the main compound against diabetes, and there was a rise in the levels of the PAI-1 gene, linked to heart disease and an increased risk of diabetes.
“We have found that elevated levels of fat molecules circulating in blood, as seen in obesity and type 2 diabetes, can directly increase PAI-1 gene expression in fat,” said Dr Kishore, who pursued an MBBS degree from Sarojini Naidu Medical College in her home town, Agra, before leaving for the US 14 years ago.
It’s normal for macrophages—the warrior cells—to fight infection and inflame tissue, but this battle can spin out of control in obesity and its related diseases.
The cells that get inflamed congregate in fat tissue when “people became obese”, she explained.
According to the World Health Organization, at least 2.6 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, which makes obesity a bigger killer than malnutrition.
Science Translational Medicine is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.