Higher levels of insulin resistance were found among Mexican-Americans with an ancestral link to Amerindian tribes, states a study from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). According to the researchers, finding the link between ancestry and the potential for chronic diseases will help develop more genetically-specific treatment programs.
“It is our hope that these findings will help healthcare providers and communities more efficiently identify high-risk persons as well as develop and provide intensified clinical and public health interventions,” said Joseph McCormick, M.D., regional dean of the UT School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus, in a statement.
McCormick and HuiQi Qu, Ph.D., assistant professor at The University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus, published the research as part of a series of articles examining chronic diseases in the Mexican-American population. The data used in the articles was gathered from blood samples taken from the Cameron County Hispanic Cohort (CCHC).
“It is important that we measure the burden of chronic disease, the risk factors, including behavioral, environmental, genetic and ancestry risk factors, so that we can take this information to our communities and work to address these issues,” McCormick stated, adding the series of research shows how important it is to consider ethnicity when identifying risk for chronic illness.
For the Amerindian study, the research team identified 103 ancestry informative markers, DNA signatures which indicate an individual’s origin of ancestry. Using those markers, experts looked for links between three major populations: Europeans, Africans and Amerindians.
What they found revealed that the Mexican-American population is mixed primarily with Amerindian and European ancestries, which predisposed the demographic to issues related to insulin resistance, blood pressure, liver injury and serum lipid levels. In a separate report, a research team verified 70 percent of the CCHC test subjects indeed had diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension.
“This study also opens the window on a major missed opportunity for preventing common chronic diseases in a minority population and, if corrected, would reduce long-term medical, social and economical burdens,” said Susan Fisher-Hoch, M.D., lead author of the additional report and professor of epidemiology at the UT School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus.
The genetic traits predisposing the Mexican-American population are what the CCHC’s primary focus is on, and the organization is the only one to examine health disparities in a purely Mexican-American population, said McCormick.
“We have taken more than ten years to develop this cohort, which is now yielding important advances in understanding just how poor the health is in this Hispanic minority,” said Fisher-Hoch. “Half of all adults over 18 years of age are obese and one third have diabetes, and insulin resistance underlies most of this pathology.”
The more than 2,500 individuals participating in the program have allowed researchers to gain valuable information regarding issues such as obesity, diabetes, mental health, and heart disease, as well as issues relating to poor health insurance coverage among the Hispanic population and more specifically Mexican-Americans.