Context: Plasma total cysteine (tCys) independently relates to fat mass in adults. Dietary cyst(e)ine promotes adiposity and decreases glucose tolerance in some rodent models, but alleviates insulin resistance in others.
Objective: To investigate whether the association of tCys with body fat extends to children at particular risk of obesity, and whether tCys is associated with insulin resistance and obesity-associated inflammation.
Methods: We explored the cross-sectional relations of fasting plasma tCys and related metabolites with body composition measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry in 984 Hispanic children and adolescents aged 4–19 years from the Viva La Familia Study. Linear and logistic regression and dose-response curves were used to evaluate relations of tCys with obesity, insulin resistance and inflammatory markers including interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) and C-reactive protein (CRP).
Results: tCys, methionine and total homocysteine (tHcy) increased with age. Upper tCys quartile was independently associated with a 5-fold increased risk of obesity (95% CI 3.5–8.0, P<0.001), and 2-fold risk of insulin resistance (95% CI: 1.6-5.0, P<0.001; adjusted for body fat%). Within the overweight/obese subgroup, but not in normal-weight children, tCys accounted for 9% of the variability in body fat% (partial r = 0.30, P<0.001; adjusted for age and gender). tCys correlated positively with serum non-esterified fatty acids and leptin, partly independent of body fat, but was not associated with serum IL-6, TNF-α or MCP-1. A positive correlation with CRP disappeared after adjustment for BMI.
Conclusion: tCys is independently associated with obesity and insulin resistance in Hispanic children and adolescents, highlighting a previously underappreciated link between the sulfur amino acid metabolic pathway and obesity and cardiometabolic risk.