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Lipid metabolism in women

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2007

Christine M. Williams*
Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, School of Food Biosciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AP, UK
Corresponding author: Professor C. M. Williams, fax +44 1189 318703, email
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Differences in whole-body lipid metabolism between men and women are indicated by lower-body fat accumulation in women but more marked accumulation of fat in the intra-abdominal visceral fat depots of men. Circulating blood lipid concentrations also show gender-related differences. These differences are most marked in premenopausal women, in whom total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations are lower and HDL-cholesterol concentration is higher than in men. Tendency to accumulate body fat in intra-abdominal fat stores is linked to increased risk of CVD, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and other insulin-resistant states. Differential regional regulation of adipose tissue lipolysis and lipogenesis must underlie gender-related differences in the tendency to accumulate fat in specific fat depots. However, empirical data to support current hypotheses remain limited at the present time because of the demanding and specialist nature of the methods used to study adipose tissue metabolism in human subjects. In vitro and in vivo data show greater lipolytic sensitivity of abdominal subcutaneous fat and lesser lipolytic sensitivity of femoral and gluteal subcutaneous fat in women than in men. These differences appear to be due to fewer inhibitory α adrenergic receptors in abdominal regions and greater α adrenergic receptors in gluteal and femoral regions in women than in men. There do not appear to be major gender-related differences in rates of fatty acid uptake (lipogenesis) in different subcutaneous adipose tissue regions. In visceral fat rates of both lipolysis and lipogenesis appear to be greater in men than in women; higher rates of lipolysis may be due to fewer α adrenergic receptors in this fat depot in men. Fatty acid uptake into this depot in the postprandial period is approximately 7-fold higher in men than in women. Triacylglycerol concentrations appear to be a stronger cardiovascular risk factor in women than in men, with particular implications for cardiovascular risk in diabetic women. The increased triacylglycerol concentrations observed in women taking hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) may explain the paradoxical findings of increased rates of CVD in women taking HRT that have been reported from recent primary and secondary prevention trials of HRT.

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