How and where fat is stored may be affected by nutrition in early development, according to a new research presented at the UK National Stem Cell Network Annual Science Meeting in Nottingham on July 12.

The study, led by Professor Kevin Docherty of the University of Aberdeen, used mouse stem cells grown in the lab to see what types of fat cells they become when fat was added. When the group of stem cells that became adipose cells during development was examined, the research found that nutrition available to stem cells affected the distribution of visceral versus subcutaneous adipose cells.
Visceral is abdominal fat that surrounds the abdominal organs with links to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers. Subcutaneous fat, located under the skin, is more visible but is less likely to be a health risk.

When palmitate found in palm oil was added to mouse stem cells, the researchers found that it affected how the cells responded to hormones that control the types of fat cells that they become.

The research gives new insights into the fundamental biology of weight-related diseases. Professor Docherty said “This finding is an important insight as it suggests that nutrition in early development can affect how and where fat is stored in later life.”

“We've known for a while that having a pot-belly suggests someone's risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease is high, but there is still a lot to learn about why body fat distribution varies so much between people. Our research helps by putting another small piece into the puzzle.”

Although improving diet and exercising is still the most important, Professor Docherty and the researchers hope that the research might lead to discovery of new treatments including drugs that help reduce the high-risk fat stores around organs.