A new study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) linking bra-cup size and Type II diabetes risk has its researchers concerned their findings might have been blown out of proportion.
The research project seeks to determine whether breast fat tissue poses a diabetes risk, in addition to the risk created by having excess fat, particularly abdominal fat. The researchers used bra-cup size as a proxy for breast fat in their study, and the findings suggest that women with D-cup sized breasts or larger at age 20 had an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes later in life.
The study has drawn skeptics and raised questions about what kind of impact this could have on women and body image.
Both the National Post and The Globe and Mail ran stories outlining the study’s findings, but since this is a first study, the findings currently have no practical application.
“A first study, any first study in any area, should never change public or clinical practice,” said study author and University of Toronto Professor Dr. Joel Ray. It’s still too early for a woman or her doctor, or nurse to use breast-cup size as a means of determining diabetes risk.
There were a couple of things that inspired the study that Dr. Ray referred to as logic points. His first logic point stated that young girls who are obese enter puberty at a younger age than non-obese girls, and therefore, begin breast development earlier as well. The second logic point was based on research that shows puberty is a natural state of insulin resistance, which is required to build up new tissues.
Dr. Ray speculates that if an obese girl enters the period of insulin resistance, on top of the state of insulin resistance her obesity indicates, she may exit puberty in a state of super insulin resistance, increasing her risk of Type II diabetes. Ray stresses that this hypothesis has not been confirmed.
The next step for Dr. Ray and other researchers is to study women undergoing reduction mammoplasty, commonly known as breast reduction surgery. The researchers hope to see how the surgery affects insulin and metabolic markers in the blood before and after the surgery. This type of study would substantiate the tentative link that has been drawn between breast fat and diabetes risk.Dr. Ray stresses that his reasons for conducting the study, and the decision to conduct the study on women, was to advance scientific knowledge, not to ask, in his words, “a quirky breast question.”
“It’s possible that we could have said, ‘hey how can we get a lot of media attention, let’s do a breast study,’ [and this] wasn’t the case,” he said.
Because the study focuses on women and their thoracic fat, fat in the upper trunk area of the body, researchers are concerned that this study might have an impact on female body image.
“We don’t want to create a body perception problem related to breasts based on what we’re saying here,” asserted Ray. “I would feel that I had harmed people by creating that notion. Especially [among] university students.”
“This is one more thing we didn’t want to know about our bodies,” said Dr. Constantin Polychronakos of McGill University remains skeptical of the findings. “I don’t think that you have fat in the breast, fat in the stomach, and that they are both independent contributors.”
Though he acknowledges that abdominal fat is a well-established risk factor for Type II diabetes, it has not yet been proven which causes which. It’s possible that both diabetes and increased abdominal fat are caused by a separate factor.
“I don’t think this study tells us that much more that we don’t already know, if you’re overweight, no matter where on your body, it’s not very good for you,” he said.
According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, Type II diabetes is a disease in which the body can no longer properly use the insulin it makes. This can be caused by insulin resistance (the body becomes progressively immune to glucose), or because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, which is required to metabolize glucose in the body. Type II diabetes means that glucose can no longer be used for energy, and instead builds up in the blood. It’s a progressive, life-long condition that can cause blindness, heart disease, kidney problems, nerve damage, and erectile dysfunction.
Type I diabetes is not preventable and, unlike Type II, cannot be caused by eating too much sugar. With Type I, the pancreas does not produce insulin. The long term complications of the disease are the same as in Type II, as glucose builds up in the blood stream.