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Genetic background to ravages of obesity

June 16, 2017

The explanation lies in the genes. Scientists at the Department of Clinical Sciences at Lund University in Malmo, Sweden , have identified a gene that exists in a special variant in most overweight people, a variant that makes fatty acids ???leak??? into the blood stream, where they don??t belong.

Fat is constantly being metabolized by the body­-being produced, broken down, and rebuilt. Adiponutrin is a protein that takes part in this process. But overweight people often have a variant of the adiponutrin gene that causes the amounts of this protein to be lower than normal.

???Adiponutrin is supposed to constitute a kind of ???corset?? that keeps fat in its place in fatty tissue. If the protein doesn??t do its job after a sugar-rich meal, fatty acids leak into the blood instead. The high content of fat in the blood then affects the cardiovascular system, the liver, muscles, and pancreas,??? explains Associate Professor Martin Ridderstrale.

The difference between obese people who are healthy and those who develop diabetes and cardiovascular disorders may be the result of their having different variants of the adiponutrin gene and some other genes, he believes. The research team in Malmo is therefore busy developing a map of genes that can show what variants of key genes function as protection and as risk factors, respectively, in connection with these diseases.

???In the future this kind of mapping of an obese patient may be of significance in treatment. Certain medications, for example, might be more appropriate for people with certain gene variants. This opens the possibility of tailoring treatment to each individual,??? says Martin Ridderstrale.

The research team??s findings on the adiponutrin gene are described in an article in the latest issue of the internationally recognized journal Diabetes.

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The more hostile the wives' comments during the discussion, the greater the extent of calcification or hardening of the arteries. And "particularly high levels of calcification were found in "women who behaved in a hostile and unfriendly way and who were interacting with husbands who were also hostile and unfriendly." The extent to which either wives or husbands acted in a dominant or controlling manner was unrelated to the severity of hardening of the arteries in the wives. The extent to which wives or husbands spoke with hostility had no relationship to the severity of hardening of the arteries in the husbands. Husbands who displayed more dominance or controlling behavior - or whose wives displayed such behavior - were more likely than other men to have more severe hardening of the arteries.

"Another way to say it is that either being controlling or being married to someone who is controlling is enough to promote atherosclerosis in men," says Smith "So in couples where there was not a struggle for control - where it wasn't a contest - those men had much lower levels of atherosclerosis.

To sum it all up, hostility during marital disputes was bad for women's hearts, while controlling behavior during marital disputes was bad for men's hearts.

"Disagreements are an unavoidable fact of relationships," says Smith. "But the way we talk during disagreements gives us an opportunity to do something healthy."

"If you were concerned about men's heart health, you would ask couples to find ways to talk about disagreements without trying to control each other. If you were concerned about women's heart health, you would encourage couples to find ways to have disagreements that weren't hostile."

And for spouses concerned about each other, avoid both hostility and controlling behavior during disagreements, he adds.

Previous research indicates "close relationships are good for our heart health. Having relationships places you at lower risk than feeling lonely and isolated," Smith says. But the new study suggests "that the quality of those relationships is important."

In addition, "the dimensions of quality that are important differ for men and women. Conventional views of harmony versus discord - how warm versus hostile interactions are - are indeed important for women. But a different dimension of quality is more important for men, and that has to do with power and control in relationships."

Smith says a common factor is anger: wives' anger from feeling hostility or being subject to hostility; and husband's anger from experiencing or at least perceiving a challenge to their sense of control.

That "certainly is consistent with a large body of prior literature on emotions, relationships and health," he adds. "What's novel about this study is taking a snapshot of how couples talk to each other and relating that to a silent, progressive and potentially deadly disease."

Smith also offers another caution about the findings.

"People get heart disease for lots of reasons," he says. "If someone said, 'What's the most important thing I can do to protect my heart health?' my first answers would be, 'Don't smoke,' 'Get exercise' and 'Eat a sensible diet.' But somewhere on the list would be, 'Pay attention to your relationships.'"

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