The Medical Reason Behind Your Butt Shape

May 29th 2016

In recent years, the butt has broken the Internet, spurred discussions on cultural appropriation, and scored formidable victories in its age-old war against the breast. But tush-talk has also taken a scientific turn— according to recent studies and news reports, your derrière may be sending you a message about your health.

What a flat butt is telling you.

If you struggle to strengthen your behind, you may be suffering from Dormant Butt Syndrome — also known as Dead Butt Syndrome — a medical condition linked to weak and underdeveloped tush muscles.

"It basically refers to the gluteus maximus or the glute muscles just not functioning as efficiently as they should," said Chris Kolba, a physical therapist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center who coined the term, in an interview with CBS News. DBS isn't a formal medical diagnosis, but the condition can contribute to pain in other parts of the body, Kolba told the Ohio news site

Most often, the condition develops from a sedentary desk-to-couch lifestyle.

"Prolonged inactivity causes muscle imbalances, so when people do get up to go walk or try to play with their kids, things start to break down," Kolba said. "That leads to this pain they think is coming out of nowhere."

The cure? Get that flat butt movin'!

"The important thing is keeping your hips mobile and loose through stretching and flexibility exercises," he said. "And then doing specific exercises to strengthen the glutes, such as squats, bridges, and lunges."

Big booty benefits?

Storing fat in your butt rather than in other parts of your body has actual health advantages, according to some health experts.

"If you're going to have fat, you're definitely better off if you've got some fat in the lower body," said Michael Jensen, director of endocrine research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., speaking to ABC News. "If you look at people who have primarily the pear shape, they're healthy in all the ways that this fat behaves. It's not just less heart attacks or less diabetes, it's all these ways we think about fat as an important organ for our health."

Carrying fat in your backside can protect against diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions linked to obesity, according to a 2010 review published by researchers at the University of Oxford and Churchill Hospital in the United Kingdom and reported by ABC News.

"It is the protective role of lower body, that is [thigh and backside] fat, that is striking," the researchers wrote. "The protective properties of the lower body fat depot have been confirmed in many studies conducted in subjects with a wide range of age, BMI, and co-morbidities."

Lower-body fat has health benefits that stomach fat does not, Robert Kushner, a professor of medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told ABC News:

"He explained that the fat stored in the stomach is harmful because 'it is more metabolically active,' sending fatty contents and messages throughout the body, whereas fat in the lower regions of the body tends to be more stable and release fewer cytokines, which have been implicated in the insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes.

"'There's a whole range of these hormonal markers that seem to be more preferentially released from the belly,' said Kushner."

Your genes determine what's in your jeans.

Unfortunately, whether you store fat in your bum or elsewhere in your body is more or less out of your control.

"You can't direct or drive the fat in one part of your body versus another," Kushner said. "For the average person on the street, it's determined by genetics."

Still, some medical experts are skeptical about the health benefits of junk in one's trunk.

"I think that the article makes a fairly compelling point that there are likely differences between these two fat stores," Floyd Chilton, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, told ABC News in response to the University of Oxford and Churchill Hospital review. "But I think it certainly falls short in making a convincing argument that one is protective and the other is the major source of the problem."

In 2013, researchers from UC Davis published an article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism debunking the theory that carrying fat in your behind rather than your abdomen mitigates the risks of heart disease and diabetes.

The researchers found that gluteal adipose tissue — "butt fat" — secreted proteins that were also linked to pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome.

“Fat in the abdomen has long been considered the most detrimental to health, and gluteal fat was thought to protect against diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome,” Ishwarlal Jialal, the study's lead author and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of internal medicine at UC Davis, said in a press release. ”But our research helps to dispel the myth that gluteal fat is ‘innocent.’ It also suggests that abnormal protein levels may be an early indicator to identify those at risk for developing metabolic syndrome.”

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