New research unveils deeper understanding of body fat

Scientists have recently discovered why some people are apple shaped and others pear shaped.

The optimum body shape is pear as opposed to apple. (Photo accreditation:

University of Edinburgh researchers have defined one particular protein that plays a crucial part in determining how fat is stored and distributed in the body. By obtaining a greater understanding of how this protein works, medicines can be developed to treat obesity.

Dr Nicholas Morton, from the University’s Centre for cardiovascular research said “this study opens up new avenues for research, and gives us a much better idea of why some fat in the body becomes unhealthy while other fat is safely stored for energy”.

The protein, known as 11BetaHSD1, correlates with the presence of an unhealthy fat type. This fat is typically stored around the torso, in what we call ‘apple shapes’ or ‘beer bellies’. The healthier fat by contrast shows lower levels of the protein and generally is stored around the hips. This ‘pear shape’ fat type is used safely by the body as a source of energy.

The research study found that mice with the protein were at a higher risk of having unhealthy fat tissue after a four week high- fat diet, compared to other mice without the protein.

Scientists are now exploring the possibility of creating medicines that would retard this protein, which raises hormone levels linked to obesity.The research, published in the journal Diabetes was funded by the Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation.

As well as being stored around the torso which contains vital organs, fat containing higher levels of 11BetaHSD1 is regarded as unhealthy as it is associated with an over-reaction in the immune system. Fat tissue usually becomes inflamed in order to combat infection, but as there is no infection present this inflammation causes damage to healthy cells.

Dr Morton also added, “Inflammation in of the unhealthy fat leads to reactions that can cause harm locally to tissues and affect the whole organism, promoting diabetes. Limiting the presence of this protein could help combat this”.