RUMC LogoIn middle-aged women, visceral fat, usually known as belly fat, is believed to be a considerable risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However what causes visceral fat to accumulate?

Experts from the Rush University Medical Center claimed that the cause is probably not age, as it is commonly understood, but the change in hormone balance which seems to take place during the menopause transition.

Lead author of the study and an assistant professor of preventive medicine, Imke Janssen stated that, “Of all the factors we analyzed that could possibly account for the increase in visceral fat during this period in a woman’s lifetime, levels of active testosterone proved to be the one most closely linked with abdominal fat.”

For the purpose of the study, experts examined nearly 359 women in menopausal transition who were between the ages of 42 to 60 and were half black and half white.

They were noted to have measured the fat content in the patient’s abdominal cavity by means of CT scans. The CT scans appear to be more accurate measurement as compared to waist size. In addition, blood tests were used in order to evaluate the levels of testosterone and estradiol. Testosterone and estradiol are believed to be the main form of estrogen. Medical histories seemed to have covered other health factors possibly linked with an increase in visceral fat.

The findings of the study revealed that the level of ‘bioavailable’ testosterone or testosterone which is active inside the body may perhaps be the strongest predictor of visceral fat. Neither a woman’s age nor race or other cardiovascular risk factors seems to be unable to correlate significantly with the amount of visceral fat. Furthermore, the level of estradiol could possibly bore little association to the amount of visceral fat.

Visceral fat is known to be the fat which surrounds internal organs around the waistline. Also, it appears to be metabolically different from subcutaneous fat which is noted to be found underneath the skin.

The study has shown that visceral fat may perhaps be a cause of inflammation which contributes to premature atherosclerosis and risk of acute coronary syndrome.

Janssen further continued saying that, “For many years, it was thought that estrogen protected premenopausal women against cardiovascular disease and that the increased cardiovascular risk after menopause was related only to the loss of estrogen’s protective effect. But our studies suggest that in women, it is the change in the hormonal balance – specifically, the increase in active testosterone – that is predominantly responsible for visceral fat, and for the increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Apparently, the study’s findings broaden earlier research conducted by Janssen on testosterone’s link which is called the metabolic syndrome during the menopausal transition. This earlier research was published in the archives of Internal Medicine in the year 2008.

This research examined women six years before and six years after their final menstrual period. The research findings showed that the rise in metabolic syndrome seemed to have corresponded with the rise in testosterone activity. Metabolic syndrome is known to be a collection of risk factors for heart disease.

The findings of the study have been published in the medical journal, Obesity.