Women tend to carry excess fat in their hips and thighs, while men tend to carry it on their stomachs. But after menopause, things start to change: many women's fat storage patterns start to resemble those of men. This indicates that there's a link between estrogen and body fat storage. This connection is well documented, but the underlying mechanisms remained poorly understood until now.
New research conducted at Concordia University's Department of Exercise Science provides a new look at the connection between fat storage and estrogen. By examining the fat storage process at a cellular level, the researchers, revealed that certain proteins and enzymes are more active in post-menopausal women. These proteins correspond with fat storage.
While fat stored on the hips and thighs is relatively harmless, fat stored around the abdomen is more dangerous. It has been associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some cancers. When post-menopausal women put on more abdominal fat, they dramatically increase their risk for these health problems.
The study compared fat storage in pre- and post-menopausal women. The 23 women who participated in the study were in the same age range, and had similar body mass indices (BMIs) and body fat composition.
They examined the activity of certain enzymes and proteins that regulate fat storage in post-menopausal women's abdomens and thighs. The researchers determined conclusively that the overall fat storage "machinery" is more active in post-menopausal women. In other words, fat cells now store more fat than they did before menopause.
In addition, post-menopausal women burned less fat than their pre-menopausal colleagues. These changes mean that their cells are not only storing more fat, but are also less willing to part with it...a combination for weight gain. "Taken together, these changes in bodily processes may be more than a little surprising - and upsetting - for women who previously had little trouble managing their weight," commented the lead researcher.
Though the increased cellular activity revealed by this study was not specific to the abdominal region, more fat stored overall means more abdominal fat. Evidence of changes in the fat storage pathways after menopause is an important contribution to understanding why post-menopausal women begin to put on more visceral fat.
Source: Diabetes, March 2013
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