Metabolic Implications of Body Fat Distribution

  1. Per Björntorp, MD, PhD
  1. Department of Medicine I, University of Göteborg, Sahlgren's Hospital Sweden
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Per Bjorntorp, MD, PhD, Department of Medicine I, Sahlgren's Hospital, S-41345 GÖteborg, Sweden.

Abstract

Insulin resistance is the cornerstone for the development of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Free fatty acids (FFAs) cause insulin resistance in muscle and liver and increase hepatic gluconeogenesis and lipoprotein production and perhaps decrease hepatic clearance of insulin. It is suggested that the depressing effect of insulin on circulating FFA concentration is dependent on the fraction derived from visceral adipocytes, which have a low responsiveness to the antilipolytic effect of insulin. Elevated secretion of cortisol and/or testosterone induces insulin resistance in muscle. This also seems to be the case for low testosterone concentrations in men. In addition, cortisol increases hepatic gluconeogenesis. Cortisol and testosterone have “permissive” effect on adipose lipolysis and therefore amplify lipolytic stimulation; FFA, cortisol, and testosterone thus have powerful combined effects, resulting in insulin resistance and increased hepatic gluconeogenesis. All these factors promoting insulin resistance are active in abdominal visceral obesity, which is closely associated with insulin resistance, NIDDM, and the “ metabolic syndrome.” In addition, the endocrine aberrations may provide a cause for visceral fat accumulation, probably due to regional differences in steroid-hormone-receptor density. In addition to the increased activity along the adrenocorticosteroid axis, there also seem to be signs of increased activity from the central sympathetic nervous system. These are the established endocrine consequences of hypothalamic arousal in the defeat and defense reactions. There is some evidence that suggests an increased prevalence of psychosocial stress factors is associated with visceral distribution of body fat. Therefore, it is hypothesized that such factors might provide a background not only to a defense reaction and primary hypertension, suggested previously, but also to a defeat reaction, which contributes to an endocrine aberration leading to metabolic aberrations and visceral fat accumulation, which in turn leads to disease.

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