Type 2 Diabetes affects millions of people worldwide, and that number is increasing and placing a heavy burden on health care systems. 

While excess fat is known to be linked with the illness, research has uncovered a surprising fact.

“Fat is really an organ that’s very active, that sends out signals to other parts of the body and has a major effect on people’s metabolism and risk of disease,” said Dr. Rob van Dam, with the Harvard School of Public Health.

One of those signals is a hormone called adiponectin. A higher level of the hormone means a lower risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

“It actually has beneficial effects on the liver and on muscles and it increases insulin sensitivity it seems and it reduces inflammation,” van Dam said.

Researchers analyzed data on this topic from 13 studies that included more than 14,000 patients. Their research, featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association, not only confirmed that higher levels of adiponectin were linked to a lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes, but it was true regardless of the patient’s ethnic group.

“So that if adiponectin would be useful as a target for treatment or prevention of diabetes, or for identifying people at high risk of diabetes, it would probably be useful across all these different ethnic groups,” van Dam said.

Adiponectin levels may be affected by medication or lifestyle interventions according to recent related research. The hormone is measured through a blood test.