Updated 27 January 2014

5 new genes linked to belly fat

Researchers identified five new genes linked to belly fat, which could help efforts to develop medicines to treat obesity and obesity-related diseases.

Researchers who identified five new genes linked to belly fat say their findings could help efforts to develop medicines to treat obesity or obesity-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The investigators looked at more than 57 000 people of European descent and searched for genes associated with abdominal fat, independent of overall obesity. They examined more than 50 000 variants in 2 000 genes.

Waist-to-hip ratio

The team pinpointed three new genes associated with increased waist-to-hip ratio in both women and men, and identified two other genes that appear to affect waist-to-hip ratio in women only. Waist-to-hip ratio is used to measure a person's belly fat. It's believed that genetics account for 30% to 60% of waist-to-hip ratio.

Read: How potbelly boosts sudden cardiac death risk

Abdominal fat is a predictor of obesity-related disease, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new study found that of the two genes that only seem to affect women, one called SHC1 appears to interact with 17 other proteins known to play a role in obesity. SHC1 has been found to be highly active in fat tissue.

Read: Type of belly fat matters

Potential risk reduction factor

"This is the first time SHC1 has been associated with abdominal fat," study author Kira Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, said in a university news release.

"We believe this discovery holds great opportunity for medicinal chemistry and eventually, personalised medicine," Taylor said. "If scientists can find a way to fine-tune the [activity] of this gene, we could potentially reduce the risk of excessive fat in the mid-section and its consequences, such as cardiovascular disease."

The study was recently published online in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.

Previous research has found that mice without the SHC1 protein are leaner than those with the protein, the news release noted.

Read more:

•             Belly or hip fat? All in the genes

•             Why belly fat hits the heart the hardest

•             How belly fat differs from thigh fat

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