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Can Triglyceride Content Predict Metabolic Effects of Weight Gain?

By AnalyzeDirect Staff, last updated March 17, 2016

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obese man's waistAlong with obesity comes a wide spectrum of other health problems, such as metabolic complications, that come under the heading of metabolic syndrome. This syndrome consists of a group of conditions – anomalous cholesterol levels, increased blood sugar values, extra body fat around the waist, hypertension, and above all, insulin resistance – that may cause diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

However, while some obese people are likely to develop metabolic abnormalities, others seem to be immune from these particular effects of weight gain. In a recent study, researchers from Washington University Center for Human Nutrition hypothesized that intrahepatic triglyceride content (accumulation of triglycerides in the liver) could be used to distinguish between obese individuals who are metabolically abnormal and others who are metabolically normal.

The subjects consumed an additional food intake of about 1,000 kcal/day, eating specific menu choices from fast-food restaurants until they achieved a 6% increase in body weight. The study highlighted distinctive responses to weight gain in the two groups: while obese people who had elevated levels of intrahepatic triglyceride content experienced worsened metabolic impairment, those who had normal levels of fat in the liver didn’t suffer severe metabolic complications.

Moreover, the researchers demonstrated that intrahepatic triglyceride content is strongly associated with insulin resistance in the skeletal muscle, liver and adipose tissue. Through the use of Analyze software, they were also able to quantify abdominal and visceral adipose tissue (fat that surrounds the inner organs) volumes from MRI scans. A strong correlation between intrahepatic triglyceride content and visceral adipose tissue volumes was found in the metabolically abnormal subjects. On the other hand, body mass index values (a formula that uses weight and height to estimate body fat) were the same in both groups.

These results highlight that intrahepatic triglyceride content may be a powerful marker of predisposition to metabolic derangements associated with obesity. Future studies will focus on this value, rather than body mass index, for developing novel weight-management therapies that aim to prevent the worsening of metabolic dysfunctions.

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