A team of researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered that people with a high fat diet, or overweight, may be at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, if they carry a particular type of common specific genetic trait known as a polymorphism.
While we need some fat in our diet, because it helps the body absorb some vitamins, is a good source of energy and a source of the essential fatty acids that the body can not make itself, having too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease.
Saturated fats are found in a wide of foods, to include :meat products, meat pies, sausages; hard cheese; butter and lard; pastry; cakes and biscuits; cream, soured cream and crème fraîche; coconut oil, coconut cream or palm oil.
Trans fats have a similar effect on blood cholesterol as saturated fats, they raise the bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood that increases the risk of heart disease.
Essentially trans fatty acids (biscuits, fast food, pastry, some margarines for example) are formed when liquid vegetable oils are turned into solid fats through the process of hydrogenation.
Trans fats are also found naturally at very low levels in foods such as dairy products, beef and lamb.
Publishing their findings this week in the journal Diabetes, pharmacology professor Peter Light and graduate student Michael Riedel suggest that saturated and trans fats are much more effective activators of a specific potassium channel found in the pancreas - known when activated to reduce insulin secretion from the pancreas and increase blood sugar levels.
This effect, they say, is amplified in the polymorphic potassium channel. Polyunsaturated fats are poor activators of the potassium channel.
"We're suggesting that people with this specific potassium channel polymorphism - about 2 million Canadians - may be more susceptible to type 2 diabetes if they have a high fat diet or are overweight, two of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes," says Dr. Light.
This may explain why 20 per cent of type 2 diabetic Caucasians carry two copies of this polymorphism in their genes compared to only 10 per cent in the non-diabetic Caucasian population.
The researchers say this discovery "opens up the distinct possibility of specific genetic screening of people at risk for type 2 diabetes", which would then give doctors additional information to advise their high-risk patients on preventative diet and exercise options.
About 10 per cent of non-diabetic Caucasians who possess this polymorphism may be at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes if they consume a diet rich in saturated and trans fats, they add.