Scientists find the cause of gender differences in type 2 diabetes risk

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At the recent European Congress on Obesity in Venice, Italy, new research presented significant findings that might help understand why type 2 diabetes (T2D) is more prevalent in men than in women.

This study, also published in the International Journal of Obesity, highlights how differences in adipose tissue response to insulin could be a key factor.

Dr. Daniel P Andersson from Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge in Stockholm explains, “Men are generally diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at a younger age and at a lower body weight compared to women, indicating a higher overall risk.”

He suggests that this disparity might be due to how men’s fat cells respond to insulin differently than women’s.

Adipose tissue, or body fat, is crucial for storing excess energy in the form of triglycerides, which are made up of free fatty acids.

Normally, insulin helps reduce the breakdown of triglycerides and promotes their storage in fat cells, thus controlling the release of fatty acids into the bloodstream.

However, when fat cells become less sensitive to insulin—a condition known as insulin resistance—the process is disrupted, potentially leading to higher levels of fat in the blood and increasing the risk of developing T2D.

To investigate this, Dr. Andersson and his team used a specific measure known as the adipose insulin resistance index (AdipoIR), which assesses the insulin sensitivity of fat cells. Higher AdipoIR values indicate greater resistance to insulin.

The study involved 2,344 women and 787 men, all averaging 44 years of age with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 kg/m2.

The findings revealed that men had higher AdipoIR values compared to women, but this difference was only significant in individuals with obesity (BMI of 30 kg/m2 or higher).

This pattern was consistent regardless of the individuals’ physical activity levels, cardiometabolic health, or nicotine use.

Further analysis was conducted on a subgroup of 259 women and 54 men living with obesity, where adipose tissue biopsies were taken to study insulin effects on isolated fat cells.

The results showed that men required ten times more insulin than women to inhibit the breakdown of triglycerides, and even then, the inhibition was less effective in men.

Interestingly, despite these differences in how insulin affects fat breakdown, the capacity for storing fat was similar between men and women.

Dr. Andersson elaborated on the implications of these findings: “In people with obesity, there’s typically an excess of energy, and insulin should help by decreasing fatty acid release and increasing lipid storage. However, in obese men, we observed increased adipose insulin resistance and elevated free fatty acid levels in the blood.”

He further noted that these elevated fatty acids could negatively affect other organs like the liver, muscles, and pancreas, potentially causing insulin resistance in these areas as well. This creates a harmful cycle that could ultimately lead to the development of T2D.

The study concludes that the more severe adipose tissue insulin resistance observed in men compared to women could partly explain why T2D is more common in men, particularly those with obesity.

This insight underscores the importance of considering gender-specific factors in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

If you care about diabetes, please read studies that not all whole grain foods could benefit people with type 2 diabetes, and green tea could help reduce death risk in type 2 diabetes.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about unhealthy plant-based diets linked to metabolic syndrome, and results showing Mediterranean diet could help reduce the diabetes risk by one third.

The research findings can be found in the International Journal of Obesity.

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