Insulin Troubles and Ethnicity

Fatty pancreas and type 2 diabetes risk may be higher in Latinos than whites or blacks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Being overweight can put a strain on your body and boost your risk of a number of health problems. When overweight turns into obesity, fat can spill over into other organs, including the pancreas.

A research study by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that Latinos may be more likely to store fat in the pancreas, which can disrupt the pancreas's ability to make insulin and increase patients' risk of diabetes.

"Exercise to prevent obesity."

Your pancreas is the organ that produces insulin - a hormone that helps manage blood sugar levels. Without insulin, people go on to develop diabetes.

Some people are insulin resistant - meaning their bodies do not respond well to insulin - which also boosts the risk of diabetes. In some people, however, the pancreas can make up for insulin resistance by making more insulin.

In a recent study, Richard Bergman, PhD, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and colleagues found that Latinos may be more likely to develop a fatty pancreas, compared to blacks or whites.

This fatty pancreas may explain why Latinos face a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

"One of the reasons some people are at increased risk, we believe, is that fatty pancreas is unable to secrete enough insulin, which results in an individual progressing from impaired glucose tolerance to type 2 diabetes," said Lidia Szczepaniak, PhD, of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and one of the study's authors.

"In our study, we found Latinos were especially vulnerable, as they tended to store more fat in the pancreas and their compensatory insulin secretion was entirely suppressed," she said.

In other words, people with pre-diabetes (a condition in which blood sugar levels are high but not high enough to be called diabetes) and fatty pancreas may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to pre-diabetes patients without fatty pancreas.

This increased risk may be due to higher levels of fat in the pancreas and lower levels of insulin production among Latinos.

For their research, Dr. Bergman and colleagues studied Latino, black and white adults during three research visits in which participants took an oral glucose tolerance test. The researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure levels of fat in organs.

They also measured function of beta cells (the cells that make insulin) and insulin resistance in the study's participants.

The study received grant support from the National Institutes of Health and the Lincy Foundation.

The research was published September 11 in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 11, 2012
Last Updated:
September 16, 2012