Weighing up breast risk: MRI evidence and diabetes link

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  • Published: Apr 1, 2011
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: MRI Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Weighing up breast risk: MRI evidence and diabetes link

Breast correlations

A magnetic resonance imaging study lends weight to earlier experiments that correlate a high breast volume with visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and a risk of type 2 diabetes.

It seems that not a week passes without a new research study suggesting a different perspective on the distribution of body fat and its association with the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions. Measures of obesity, such as body mass index (BMI), waist measurement, hip-to-waist ratio, supine sagittal abdominal height and other variables seem to offer by turns positive and then negative correlations. Subcutaneous fat however it is distributed is a risk, unless it is on the legs in which case it can be protective. Visceral adipose tissue, the type of fat that lags the internal organs, becomes is often a factor of note, particularly if the heart is the internal organ that is the most well-lagged with pericardial adipose tissue, conversely the pear versus apple shape for women and men often confuses the issue when visceral fat is brought into the equation.

A study in 2008 hinted that large breast size in females by late adolescence could be a predictor of the development of type 2 diabetes in middle age independently of BMI or waist circumference; why this should be the case remains unclear. Now, Britta Schautz, Wiebke Later, Manfred Mueller and Anja Bosy-Westphal of the Institute of Human Nutrition and Food Science, at the Christian-Albrechts University, in Kiel, Germany and Martin Heller of the Clinic for Diagnostic Radiology, at the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein, also in Kiel, Germany, have used whole-body MRI to determine body fat distribution. The research has allowed them to develop a possible explanation for why breast size, and specifically level of breast adipose tissue (BrAT), should affect type 2 diabetes risk.

The study also corroborates findings from 2003 that 40-50 percent of women undergoing liposuction to remove subcutaneous adipose tissue from hips and waist will see an enlargement of their breasts by one cup size due to increased fat content. Similarly, HV patients given antiretroviral therapy with protease inhibitors also experience an enlargement of their breasts because of a redistribution of body fat that concomitantly sees leg fat decrease.

The team studied a wide cross-section of young women (97 in all aged from 19 to 46 years) with a BMI range from 16.8 to 46.8 kilograms per square metre. They measured height to an accuracy of 5 mm and weight to the nearest 10 grams. A sub-group of 57 overweight and obese women were investigated before and after diet-induced weight loss.

BrAT associations

The MRI scans revealed that a high proportion of BrAT was associated with a higher level of adipose tissue around the trunk overall but lower leg fat. Dieting reduced BrAT as a percentage of total adipose tissue and this correlated with a reduction in trunk fat but was inversely linked to leg and visceral fat. However, the BrAT level did not seem to correlate with cardiometabolic risk factors, whereas trunk and visceral fat did and leg fat was inversely correlated, as demonstrated in earlier studies.

The team concludes that a high level of BrAT reflects a genetic type that goes with increased trunk and leg fat. "Our results fit with earlier studies," Schautz told SpectroscopyNOW. "The increased trunk and decreased leg fat in women with high BrAT may explain the higher risk for developing diabetes."

"We don't have any implications for women undergoing liposuction," Schautz adds. "But for risk assessment in obesity and obesity-related diseases, measurement of waist circumference as a field method should be preferred against measuring bra cup size. BrAT could only give an indirect measure of a high risk body fat distribution, waist circumference can measure truncal SAT and also VAT more precisely. And as our and previous results showed, truncal SAT and VAT are directly associated with cardiometabolic risk."

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

A magnetic resonance imaging study reduces the weight of earlier experiments that correlate a high breast volume with visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and a risk of type 2 diabetes. The findings suggest this correlation is independent of body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) and has important implications for women undergoing liposuction treatment to reduce subcutaneous fat from their waist and hip area.

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