Not everyone gets supersized on a high fat diet, and now reseachers are learning why. A new shows why some people can eat excessive amounts of food and not gain weight or develop type 2 diabetes, while others are more likely to develop obesity and this most common form of diabetes on any diet.

The study used two strains of mice with differing tendencies to gain weight and develop diabetes on a high-fat diet. Researchers C. Ronald Kahn says, “Although this study was done with mice, it points out new mechanisms that may underlie the ability of genetically different mice?and perhaps genetically different people?to not gain much weight on high caloric diets.”

It has long been known that people significantly differ in their tendency to gain weight and develop metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions including hypertension, abdominal obesity, high triglycerides and glucose intolerance that can lead to type 2 diabetes. More than 60 million Americans either are obese or have metabolic syndrome, putting them at risk for type 2 diabetes and its frequent complications, including cardiovascular disease and other serious conditions. Currently 21 million Americans have diabetes and approximately one-third of them do not even know they have the disease. Formerly known as adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is occurring more frequently in young adults and even in children.

In New Scientist, Roxanne Khamsi reports on a mouse study that fed genetically identical mice very different diets, which showed that “a high-fat diet can desensitize the brain to appetite-suppressing hormones, effectively leaving the brain unaware of obesity.” The brain cells of the mice that ate the high fat diet stopped responding to leptin, which scientists think is one of the main hormones that controls how much we eat and how much of it we store as fat. Diets may fail because our brains become insensitive to leptin. A compound called SOCS-3 was found inside the brain cells of the obese mice. SOCS-3 must have prevented the signal sent by leptin from registering within the cells, so the mice never felt “full” and did not stop eating. Khamsi quotes researcher Michael Cowley as saying, “There is a perception in society that obesity is a failure of will. This work suggests that’s not an appropriate model.”

But just as with people, not ALL these mice became supersized. Khamsi writes, “Among those that received the high-calorie chow, some became obese while others maintained a normal weight. (The reason for this difference remains a mystery).”

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