Fat Storage in Women: From Puberty to the Menopause

  • Anthony J. O’Sullivan


During growth in healthy normal weight humans, women accumulate a higher total and percent body fat compared with men, a difference which becomes more marked at puberty and continues throughout adult life. The reason for this sexual dimorphism is not known; however, it probably relates to sex steroids since they have profound effects on body composition and growth at puberty. The first half of pregnancy is also a stage of adipose tissue gain and growth in women. There is no definitive explanation as to why women should have a greater percent body fat than men, as the latter consume more calories proportionately. Moreover, the storage of fat in women, resulting in increased fat mass in early pregnancy, occurs when caloric intake does not significantly change. Therefore, the aim of this chapter is to focus on evidence supporting one mechanism that may account for these observed findings. That is, oestrogen reduces fatty acid oxidation leading to an increase in body fat which may account for the greater fat mass observed in women compared with men, and the fat gain in early pregnancy. Therefore, female puberty and early pregnancy could be seen as states of efficient energy storage of fat to allow adipose tissue to grow in preparation for fertility, foetal development and lactation providing an obvious biological advantage. Further research into this mechanism of fat storage may provide further insights into the regulation of body fat.


Oestrogen Adipose tissue Fatty acid oxidation Pregnancy Body composition Growth 





Carnitine palmitoltransferase


Energy expenditure




Growth hormone


Liver fatty acid binding protein


National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys





The author wishes to thank Professor Ken Ho for guidance and input into some of the earlier studies quoted in this chapter.


  1. Aiello LC, Key C. Am J Hum Biol. 2002;14:551–65.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ashima KK, Graubard BI. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84:1215–23.Google Scholar
  3. Bass NM, Manning JA, Ockner RK, Gordon JI, Seetharam S, Alpers DH. J Biol Chem. 1985;260:1432–6.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Berthon PM, Howlett RA, Heigenhauser GJ, Spriett LL. J Appl Physiol. 1998;85:148–53.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bitar A, Vernet J, Coudert J, Vermorel M. Eur J Nutr. 2000;39:157–63.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blaak E. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2001;4:499–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blouin K, Boivin A, Tchernof A. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2008;108:272–80.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Butte NF, Wong WW, Treuth MS, Ellis KJ, O’Brain Smith E. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:1078–87.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Cagnacci A, Zanin R, Cannoletta M, Generali M, Caretto S, Volpe A. Fertil Steril. 2007;88:1603–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Campbell SE, Febbraio MA. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001;281:E803–8.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Chumlea WC, Guo SS, Kuczmarski RJ, Flegal KM, Johnson CL, Heymsfield SB, Lukaski HC, Friedl K, Hubbard VS. Int J Obes. 2002;26:1596–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Deroo BJ, Korach KS. J Clin Invest. 2006;116:561–70.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Durnin JV, Mckillop FM, Grant S, Fitzgerald G. Lancet. 1985;2:823–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Durnin JVGA, Womersley J. Br J Nutr. 1974;32:77–97.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Elbers JMH, Giltray EJ, Teerlink T, Scheffer PG, Asscheman H, Seidell JC, Gooren LJG. Clin Endocrinol. 2003;58:562–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fomon SJ, Haschke F, Ziegler EE, Nelson SE. Am J Clin Nutr. 1982;35:1169–75.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Forsum E. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:933–4.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Forsum E, Sadurskis A, Wager J. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988;47:942–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Furuhashi M, Hotamisligil GS. Nat Rev Drug Disc. 2008;7:489–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gao Q, Horvath TL. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2008;294:E817–26.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Henderson GC, Fattor JA, Horning MA, Faghihnia N, Johnson ML, Mau TL, Luke-Zeitoun M, Brooks GA. J Physiol. 2007;584:963–81.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hill JO. Endocr Rev. 2006;27:750–61.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Hill JW, Elmquist JK, Elias CF. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2008;294:E827–32.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Horlick MB, Rosenbaum M, Nicolson M, Levine LS, Fedun B, Wang J, Pierson RN, Leibel RL. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000;85:2509–18.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jacobs KA, Casazza GA, Suh SH, Horning MA, Brooks GA. J Appl Physiol. 2005;98:1720–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Janssen I, Heymsfield SB, Allison DB, Kotler DP, Ross R. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;75:683–8.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Kopp-Hoolihan LE, Van Loan MD, Wong WW, King JC. J Appl Physiol. 1999;87:196–202.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Lee CG, Molly CC, Murdoch SJ, Mitchell E, Woods NF, Wener MH, Chandler WL, Boyko EJ, Brunzell JD. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009;94:1104–10.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Leung KC, Doyle N, Ballesteros M, Sjogren K, Watts CK, Low TH, Leong GM, Ross RJ, Ho KKY. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2003;100:1016–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Leung KC, Johannsson G, Leong GM, Ho KKY. Endoc Rev. 2004;25:693–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lof M, Forsum E. Brit J Nutr. 2006:95:296–302.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lof M, Olausson H, Bostrom K, Janerot-Sjoberg B, Sohlstrom A, Forsum E. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81:678–85.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Lwin R, Darnell B, Oster R, Lawrence J, Foster J, Azziz R, Gower BA. Fertil Steril. 2008;90:1275–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mayes JS, Watson GH. Obes Rev. 2004;5:197–216.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Meier U, Gressner AM. Clin Chem. 2004;50:1511–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Moller N, Jorgensen JOL, Alberti KGMM, Flyvbjerg A, Schmitz O. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1990;70:1179–86.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nindl BC, Scoville CR, Sheehan KM, Leone CD, Mello RP. J Appl Physiol. 2002;92:1611–8.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Ogle GD, Allan JR, Humphries IR, Lu PW, Briody JN, Morley K, Howman-Giles R, Cowell CT. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;61:746–53.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Oh DK, Ciaraldi T, Henry RR. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2007;9:282–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. O’Sullivan AJ. Obes Rev. 2009;10:168–77.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. O’Sullivan AJ, Hoffman DH, Ho KKY. N Engl J Med. 1995;333:669–70.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. O’Sullivan AJ, Crampton L, Freund J, Ho KKY. J Clin Invest. 1998;102:1035–40.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. O’Sullivan AJ, Martin A, Brown MA. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001;86:4951–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Palin SL, McTernan PG, Anderson LA, Sturdee DW, Barnett AH, Kumar S. Metabolism. 2003;52:383–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pedersen SB, Bruun JM, Hube F, Kristensen K, Hauner H, Richelsen B. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2001;182:27–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pedersen SB, Kristensen K, Hermann PA, Katzenellenbogen JA, Richelsen B. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004;89:1869–78.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Perseghin G, Scifo P, Pagliato E, Battezzati A, Benedini S, Soldini L, Testolin G, Del Maschio A, Luzi L. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001;86:3188–96.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pietrobelli A, Allison DB, Heshka S, Heo M, Wang ZM, Bertkau A, Laferrere B, Rosenbaum M, Aloia JF, Pi-Sunyer FX, Heymsfield SB. Int J Obes. 2002;26:1339–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Prentice AM, Goldberg GR. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;71 Suppl:1226S–32S.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Roepstorff C, Donsmark M, Thiele M, Vistisen B, Stewart G, Vissing K, Schjerling P, Hardie DG, Galbo H, Kiens B. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006;291:E1106–14.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rosenbaum M, Leibel RL. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999;84:1784–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Santosa S, Jensen MD. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2008;295:E531–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Swinburn B, Ravussin E. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993;57 Suppl:766S–71S.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Tanner JM, Whitehouse RH. Brit Med J. 1962;1:446–50.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tarnopolsky MA. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;40:648–54.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tarnopolsky MA, Rennie CD, Robertshaw HA, Fedak-Tarnopolsky SN, Devries MC, Hamadeh MJ. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007;292:R1271–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Uranga AP, Levine J, Jensen MD. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2005;288:E547–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Van Raaij JM, Vermaat-Miedema SH, Schonk CM, Peek ME, Hautvast JG. Lancet. 1987;2:953–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Venables MC, Achten J, Jeukendrup AE. J Appl Physiol. 2005;98:160–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Weinstein I, Cook GA, Heimberg M. Biochem J. 1986;237:593–6.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Weinstein I, Soler-Argilaga C, Werner HV, Heimberg M. Biochem J. 1979;180:265–71.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Wells JCK. Best Prac Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007;21:415–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Medicine and EndocrinologySt. George Hospital, University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations