Why does obesity lead to heart disease and diabetes in some people, but not others? New research out of Ireland suggests levels of inflammation — often seen in both conditions, but not all — may account for the differences and explain how some obese people are able to remain healthy.
The study, slated for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, sheds new light on the role of inflammation in disease and could help doctors design care and treatment programs based on a patient's unique individual makeup.
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"In our study, metabolically healthy people — both obese and non-obese — had lower levels of a range of inflammatory markers," said lead researcher Catherine Phillips, of the University College Cork in Ireland. "Regardless of their body mass index, people with favorable inflammatory profiles also tended to have healthy metabolic profiles."
Obesity is linked to a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. But some obese people never develop high blood pressure or dangerous cholesterol profiles — factors that increase the risk of metabolic diseases. Although estimates vary widely, up to a third of obese people may be classed as "metabolically healthy," the researchers suggested.
For the study, researchers tracked the medical charges of more than 2,000 residents of County Cork, Ireland, between the ages of 50 and 69. All completed lifestyle questionnaires, physical and clinical assessments, and underwent blood testing so their body mass index (BMI), metabolic profiles, and inflammatory markers could be determined.
Researchers found that people who were metabolically healthy had lower counts of white blood cells and other markers of inflammation, compared to their metabolically unhealthy peers.
"From a public health standpoint, we need better methods for identifying which obese people face the greatest risk of diabetes and heart disease," Phillips said. "Inflammatory markers offer a potential strategy for pinpointing people who could benefit most from medical interventions."
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