As we move through peri-menopause and into menopause I often hear females talk about changes in fat storage. Where once they were unhappy for extra fat on their thighs they then become unhappy that it´s moved from there and seems to settle around the midsection. So what´s going on?
An ”Android” body shape is described as fat distribution around the midsection, so around the waist (belly button), typically known as apple shape. Gynoid shape is the fat distribution around the hips, this region is situated around the top of the thighs and typically called the pear shape.
An android/gynoid ratio (waist/hip ratio) greater than 1 would determine this and you may be at more risk of having fat around the organs.
Depending on where you store your fat, you can often predict your risk for future health complications.
The android or apple-shaped pattern of body fat indicates fat stored around your organs, called visceral fat, in addition to fat underneath your skin known as subcutaneous fat. This fat distribution is much more common in men and is associated with more disease risk than the pear-shape fat distributions.
Android fat cells are predominantly visceral, they are large fat cells deposited under the skin and are highly metabolic active. The hormones they secrete have direct access to the liver, you may have heard of the term “fatty liver”. In men testosterone circulation causes fat cells to deposit around the abdominal and gluteo-femoral (bum/thigh) region. In women oestrogen circulation causes fat to deposit around the thighs, breasts and buttocks. The pear-shape or gynoid fat deposition may actually be protective against disease for women. Gynoid fat develops after puberty, women need this fat to support a potential infant.
A central or android fat distribution can increase the likelihood of narrowed artery walls; high blood pressure; and abnormal blood lipids, glucose, and insulin. This is why exercise, good nutrition (especially balancing blood sugar levels) are KEY to optimising health in post menopause.
Once we reach menopause, and oestrogen production tapers off, women tend to shift more towards the android fatty picture that is associated with men. Post-menopausal women tend to have lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone, this means they might distribute more fat mass around the android region.
The natural shift to lower oestradiol in menopause impairs the mitochondrial cells ability to convert glucose into energy causing a temporary energy crisis.
Body fat increases are seen in both truncal (more weight above the waistline) and subcutaneous fat tissue, with the greatest change seen in intra-abdominal fat mass. In some women, this change in body fat around the middle has been reported to increase by as much as 20% to 44%.
This is partly due to the reduced ability to convert energy from foods into metabolic energy (ATP) to drive the mitochondria. This is also why what we eat becomes more important with age and the ability to be metabolically flexible and use ketones for energy, is also beneficial.
The accumulation of central abdominal fat is associated with a decline in circulating adiponectin. Adiponectin, is a protein hormone produced by our fat cells which enhances the response of cells to the hormone called insulin, so it´s role is to increase insulin sensitivity by promoting fat oxidation in liver and muscle tissue.
Those with low serum (blood) adiponectin levels are at higher risk of insulin resistance (IR) and the metabolic syndrome, and the decline in adiponectin with intra-abdominal weight gain at menopause is believed to have an important role in the development of IR in menopause.
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and growth hormone (GH) regulate adiponectin release in the fat cells. Leptin also has a role to play in adiponectin regulation.
Don´t be scared of fats:
The mono saturated fats found in fish oil and olive oil play a big role in supporting adiponectin levels. Other good sources are: avocados, olives, nuts. These should replace the fats that are not so beneficial at this stage of life for most: fatty meats, salami/sausages, and whole fat dairy products.
Herbs/Spices help too: fennel, sage, ginger
Exercising 30 minutes a day has also shown to be supportive of supporting adiponectin levels.