Do hormones affect the accumulation and distribution of fat on the human body?
This is not a quick and easy question to answer due to the complicated science of hormonal physiology which we are still trying to understand and discover all of its affects to the body, but there are some macro-clues to look at that would lead you to believe this concept makes some sense…
Let me start by saying my education and training has been in applied physiology and my area of interest has been the effects of lifestyle, nutrition and environmental stress on the body chemistry and how it changes weight gain and performance in everything from physical fitness to decisions in the corporate suite. In that endeavor we have spent almost a decade developing and honing a methodology for weight management and physical performance based on a methodology and suite of tools we call Six Sigma Fitness.
Our methodology starts with an understanding of a client or athlete's body composition, metabolism and then moving outward into their ability to move properly. We then determine what kinds of nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes would be best to reach their objectives. One of the first assessments we start with is a 12 point subcutaneous body fat performed with an Intelametrix https://www.facebook.com/BodyMetrix-372252673044 handheld ultrasound or a medical grade set of calipers such as the Harpenden brand. This is our Regional Adipose Tissue Deposit Profile (RATDP).
Before I go on, it should be noted that we use many technologies in our methodology that we have taught to many coaches, but the key is integrating them all into a cohesive method that can help clients or athletes get results. We have used this on hundreds of clients and on one of the largest professional Mixed Martial Arts teams in the country The MMA LAB / The LAB Scottsdale. We have certified in and use many different platforms including Precision Nutrition and its ProCoach platform, BioForce and its HRV platform, CardioCoach (metabolic cart) and its platform, Trainerize, and our Six Sigma Fitness™ web app. This is a proprietary platform that we developed and programmed all the technology and algorithms utilizing scientifically valid best practices. In addition, in our performance technology we use many third party hardware technology. from Polar heart rate sensors, @Hykso Hykso punch sensors, Vert jump sensors, Push velocity based systems… just to name a few.
So I preface that with the fact that the 12 point body composition assessment is a core critical starting point to create a baseline, establish a methodology and develop a plan to guide your programs, but it is far from being the only tool in the bag. Standardizing your tools as well as creating a framework to craft more detailed programs is important to establishing a common set of standards your entire group can work from and that you can communicate and market to the client or athlete.
Back to hormonal profiles….
I won’t go into too much detail here because this is the basis for an entire course not just a blog post but I will highlight some more significant concepts.
It is well established and accepted scientifically that the main reason men and women have the “apple” vs. the “pear” shape is mainly due to hormones and in this case testosterone vs estrogen. So we already know that those hormones have a big impact on fat deposition in certain areas of the body. And once you establish and accept that, it isn’t a far leap of faith to start investigating how other hormones effect the physical characteristics of the body including where fat may accumulate. In fact it isn’t a debate on if body fat deposition is a sign of chemical imbalance or dysfunction but whether or not we can pinpoint exactly what type of imbalance with enough certainty to try and implement a solution to the problem. https://www.researchgate.net/…/links/02e7e5231e8e28bc660000…
The study of diseases have given us most of the clues to start down the path of investigation:
For example, Cushing’s Disease has shown us how hormonal imbalances can affect the physical shape of the body and in this case the deposits of adipose tissue in certain locations such as the abdominal and neck areas of the body. Cushing’s disease is caused by an excess amount of cortisol secretion. https://www.endocrineweb.com/…/c…/cushings-syndrome-symptoms
Because of such study, there is also a fair amount of science surrounding specific areas of the body that every one has heard of such as how increased Cortisol tends to create more visceral abdominal fat due to dysregulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis or HTPA axis). https://academic.oup.com/…/Stress-Related-Cortisol-Secretio… Again this is merely another clue scientists have established with certainty that a hormone can alter body fat deposition (depots). If the science has established this with relative certainty then what other chemical imbalances might cause morphing within the body? http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/8680455
We could continue to point to clues like this all day long, but there is no question that hormones affect the physical shape of the body, through changes to the internal chemistry, but the question is how much of the physical shape or in this case the depositing of excess adipose tissue deposits can be used as a marker for hormonal imbalances and or as a diagnostic tool to establish a method to weight management, health and performance. Science seems to be heading in the direction that physical changes are valid indicative symptoms of underlying causes that can be relied on as markers of health factors that lead to good or poor health of which obesity is just one aspect. The key is to understand that the external physical markers can identify the internal chemical markers that may be causing them but the primary drivers of the chemical changes need to be identified and altered to get results. For example, increased abdominal fat may be an indicator of chronically spiked insulin creating low grade insulin resistance which may be caused by multiple factors such has high carbohydrate diets, lack of sleep or physical movement.
Additionally, thanks to the 21st century effect of some really bad foods, chemicals, poor nutritional and lifestyle habits... scientist have been able to begin to study how extreme dietary or physical habits change your chemistry. Typically research is not allowed to be done in circumstances where it may create harm to the research subjects, but when they have already self-inflicted this harm, we can begin to study what it has done to the human chemistry of the body as well as the how’s and why’s. For example too much time spent in sedentary positions, too much time spent stressing, too much sugar intake… our society and modern lifestyle has given us a plethora of “too much” to study and analyze the effects.
One example is Type 2 Diabetes. It has been on a rampant increase and has given the scientific community a huge amount of data on what excess glucose, insulin secretion and the resulting insulin resistance changes the chemistry of the body, causes damage to the organs and results in weight gain. Insulin resistance causes more central adipose tissue including the Suprailiac (muffin top) and abdomen. http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/45/5/633.short
In addition deep adipose tissue deposits in the abdomen have been shown to be correlated with insulin resistance: "Indeed, it has been suggested that the subcutaneous abdominal adipose depot be regarded as two compartments, the superficial and the deep, separated by the fascia superficialis. The size of the deep subcutaneous depot has been shown to correlate strongly with the level of insulin resistance and to have a higher lipolytic rate than the superficial subcutaneous abdominal fat depot. Such studies suggest that the visceral fat depot, in combination with the deep subcutaneous depot, both contribute to insulin resistance."
What about estrogen and xenoestrogens? The study of obese woman can give us clues that increased testosterone contributes to upper body fat (apple) more like men and increased levels of estrogen are correlated with lower body fat (pear) https://academic.oup.com/…/article-abstract/70/2/473/2280835
What about low testosterone in men or the conversion of testosterone to estrogen in a process called “aromatization” which leads to upper body or trunk fat making men appear to have excess breast tissue? https://academic.oup.com/…/Sex-Steroid-Hormones-Upper-Body-…
Evidence of these fat deposits are becoming well documented in the scientific literature, so although it is about the macro-science it is more and more becoming about the micro-science and how to use it to pinpoint issues and reliably act on the findings to rectify problems. This is where the scientific literature is still exploring the possibilities, but like all good science it relies on anecdotal evidence in the field based on observations from individuals and health practitioners. It allows scientists to hone in on the significant questions to be answered.
One thing I will express in more detail regarding the 12 point body composition system (RATDP) is that not all locations of measurement factor equally in the science that supports them. For example the science on the fat that accumulates around the knees and calf is pretty thin right now which is why it is has slightly less emphasis in our algorithms as it would have to be really bad to pop up as a priority issue to be looked at and addressed. We emphasize those areas that are well documented scientifically and that we believe have some macro solutions to addressing the potential problems. But like I said this is an entire course which we constantly evolving as science changes along with our methods and platform that we teach to others along with the several other scientifically valid solutions and technologies mentioned above.
In general, this is just the tip of the iceberg and as such it is an over simplification of a complicated subject but we believe fat deposits can indeed be one of several ways to assess an individual and form a basis for a methodology to move them back to a path of health.