Waist to hip ratio (WHR) is an indicator of health that is used to estimate fat deposition in the abdominal region. An increase in the WHR, known as the apple shaped body, is associated with decreased fertility and increased risk of heart disease. Research has shown that the tendency for someone to have an apple shaped body or high WHR is determined by a collection of 48 single gene variants/mutations. Several studies have reported greater occurrence of type 2 diabetes and heart disease among those with high WHR ratios but no study has been able to determine whether this was due to lifestyle choices or genetic risks. In a study published by researchers from Boston, it was shown that people who had more of the 48 genetic variants that increased their abdominal fat (large WHR) were at greater risk of suffering from heart disease and type 2 diabetes indicating a genetic predisposition to these conditions.
In the article, the researchers studied over 111,000 people from a UK Biobank with an average age of 57. They gave each participant a risk score depending on how many of the 48 mutations they had in their DNA. They found that a higher risk score was associated with a larger WHR, bigger waist circumference and a smaller hip circumference. This was not surprising as it had been noted in the past that these mutations were associated with elevated abdominal fat. What was interesting was that a higher risk score was associated with an increase in bad cholesterol levels and a reduction in good cholesterol levels. The risk score was also associated with insulin resistance and elevated HbA1C, a marker of uncontrolled glucose levels. There was also an association with elevated blood pressure. In total, the researchers saw that having more of the 48 mutations resulted in a 1.79x increased risk of developing diabetes and a 1.46x increased risk of developing heart disease.
These results show how your genetic code can influence not only your body shape but also your risk for diabetes and heart disease. These 48 mutations are small and do not cause catastrophic health problems on their own, however having more of them puts you at risk for chronic disease. The risks are small and there are still certainly changes you can make in your daily life that will combat your genetics. Eat healthy and stay active, your genetics may be out to get you but you still have control over the outcome.
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