Researchers at Oxford Population Health and the National Autonomous University of Mexico have been able to use Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to characterise the metabolic profiles of fat accumulation across the body, providing insight on the processes that link body fat with type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The study involved around 30,000 participants from the Mexico City Prospective Study, which recruited around 160,000 adults between 1998 and 2004. The objective of the study was to describe the metabolic profile of the different types of body fat, also known as adiposity, according to where in the body it accumulates. The metabolic profiles were obtained using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, a method which quantifies over 100 different characteristics of molecules circulating in blood, including lipids (like cholesterol and triglycerides), lipoproteins (cholesterol and triglyceride transporters), fatty acids, amino acids, markers of inflammation, and others.
The study found that the metabolic profiles of people with higher levels of adiposity overall and fat accumulation around the middle of the body were more likely to have the presence of molecules linked to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. General adiposity and abdominal adiposity were independently associated with metabolic profiles linked to higher cardio-metabolic risk. However, metabolic profiles of people with fat distribution focused around the hips were linked to lower cardio-metabolic risk.
These findings provide insight on the processes that link the accumulation of fat across the body with disease risk but, as these descriptive analyses are of observational nature, it was not possible to assess the causal nature of the associations. Future research will aim to close this gap.
Dr Diego Aguilar-Ramirez, Early Career Researcher at Oxford Population Health and lead author of the study, said ‘In Mexico, obesity and type 2 diabetes are common but at the time of our study use of lipid-lowering drugs was low (thereby allowing us to make an unbiased assessment of the impact of adiposity on blood lipids). Our findings reinforce the need in Mexico for ongoing efforts to reduce population levels of overweight and obesity, but also have relevance to population health strategies in other parts of the world where obesity and diabetes are increasing but have not yet reached the levels seen in Mexico.’
The study is published in Communications Medicine and is accompanied by a blog.
Data availability and equity
The Mexico City Prospective Study was set up in the late 1990s by scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in collaboration with scientists at the University of Oxford (with the two groups collaborating together on the study ever since). If you are interested in obtaining data from the study for research purposes, or in collaborating with MCPS investigators on a specific research proposal, please visit the study website where you can download the study’s Data and Sample Access Policy in English or Spanish. The policy aims to promote equity in science by giving Mexican scientists and institutions a two-year exclusivity period to new data ahead of scientists in other parts of the world. The NMR data used in these analyses were added to the data already available to researchers from Mexico in October 2022. Full details of the data available may also be viewed at the study’s Data Showcase.