South Asian diabetes risk clues found, UK study says

Blood glucose test
Image caption Regular exercise could lower the risk

People of south Asian origin are more prone to Type 2 diabetes due to the way their muscles burn fat, a study finds.

The team from Glasgow University discovered that people from the region have muscles which do not burn fat as well as Europeans.

This could raise diabetes risk by contributing to a poorer response to the hormone insulin, reports the PLoS One journal.

Diabetes UK said researchers could now look at ways to boost fat-burning.

Experts have already noticed that people of south Asian origin are more likely to become overweight and develop Type 2 diabetes when living in western countries.

However, even though being overweight increases the risk of diabetes, the six-fold increase in risk in south Asian people could not be fully explained just by this.

One of the ways the body deals with fat is to burn it in the skeletal muscles, and the Glasgow researchers found key differences between the muscles of south Asians and Europeans.

In particular, the expression of genes key to fat metabolism was lower in the muscles of south Asians - which would mean that their ability to process fat was impaired.

In turn, this would increase the risk of "insulin resistance", a factor in the development of type II diabetes.

Dr Jason Gill, who led the study, said: "Our results suggest that the ability of south Asians' muscles to use fat as a fuel is lower than in Europeans.

"In other words, if a south Asian man and a European man were walking alongside each other at the same speed, the south Asian man's muscles would be burning less fat and this may contribute to a greater risk of developing diabetes."

However, he said that regular exercise was known to improve this ability, and suggested this might be a key way for people of south Asian descent to lower their diabetes risk.

Dr Victoria King, from Diabetes UK, said: "We have known for some time that south Asian people have up to a six-fold increase in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

"Although we think this could be due to increased body fat and this fat being more likely to be stored around the abdomen, these factors can only explain part of the increased risk we see."

She added: "This new insight could provide the basis for future studies looking at lifestyle, or drug interventions to enhance the uptake and burning of fat in muscles, reducing the risk of type II diabetes in this high risk group."

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