While it has long been held that too much fat in the liver may result in diabetes, researchers appear to have discovered that not all types of fat are harmful.
Writing in the latest issue of Nature Medicine, a group of Japanese scientists described how they changed the fat composition in the livers of mutant mice and fed them exactly the same rich, fatty diet as other mice.
But while all the rodents became obese and the normal mice developed resistance to insulin and became prone to diabetes, the mutant group was free from those problems.
"Obesity is a matter of quantity of fats in the body, but it is our new message that the quality of fats could be a new determinant factor for diabetes," said Hitoshi Shimano of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences.
Too much fat leads to obesity
Excessive fat intake leads to obesity and overwhelms the storage capacity of fat cells, with surplus fat being stored in the liver.
Development of fatty liver can result in insulin resistance and increased glucose levels - hallmarks of diabetes.
"The absolute levels of fat in the liver do not therefore seem to be detrimental to maintaining normal glucose levels. Instead, the types of fat that are present seem to be a more important factor, with shorter fat molecules being healthier than longer ones," the researchers wrote.
How the study was conducted
Shimano and his colleagues created a batch of mice lacking Elovl6, an enzyme that increases the length of the carbon chains of fatty acids.
That changed the fat composition in the liver of these mutant or knock-out (KO) mice, which ended up with more short fatty acids than longer chains.
"Unlike normal mice that became insulin resistant and prone to diabetes after they became obese, the KO mice were free from insulin resistance and diabetes. In other words, we made mice that did not become diabetic even after they became obese."
Shimano held out hope that drugs could be made to inhibit this enzyme in people and change the fat composition in their livers so that the risk of diabetes could be reduced for those who are obese and who find it hard to lose weight.
"If what we found in these mice is applicable to humans, a drug that inhibits this enzyme could be a miracle anti-diabetic drug that does not require diet," Shimano wrote. – (Tan Ee Lyn, Reuters)
Diabetes - why obesity is a risk factor
Obesity fuelling diabetes