For both men and women, hormone levels change throughout the lifespan. Puberty and aging affect the hormones of both sexes, as well as pregnancy and menopause for women. And fluctuations in hormone levels, in turn, affect where and how our bodies store fat. Hormones such as leptin, insulin and ghrelin affect fat storage throughout the lifespan.
Sex Hormones and Fat Changes
Body fat can be a source of estrogen production, and both men and women can produce estrogen in their body fat. In women, estrogen is produced primarily by the ovaries, which produce more estrogen before menopause, than after. In addition, men’s bodies produce androgens in the testes, although the amount produced tends to decrease as men age.
Both estrogen and androgens affect not only how much fat the body stores, but where the body stores fat. Higher levels of estrogen are associated with fat storage in the hips, giving many women a characteristic “pear-shaped” look. Lower estrogen and androgens are also associated with fat storage around the middle, which can create an “apple-shaped” look in some people.
As a result, the location of a person’s body fat may change throughout the lifespan. Both men and women may find that fat accumulates around their middle as they age, and women may see abdominal fat increase after menopause.
Leptin and Ghrelin
Leptin is a hormone created within the body’s fat cells. From there, it moves into the bloodstream and travels to the brain, where it affects appetite. Leptin may be the reason someone experiences hunger when his caloric needs are being met. The connection between leptin and appetite continues to be studied.
Ghrelin, sometimes known as lenomorelin, also plays a role in appetite. Just as leptin signals to your body that you’ve had enough to eat, ghrelin signals that you are hungry and should eat. In addition, ghrelin plays a significant role in the body’s distribution and use of energy, and thus it may be involved in the body’s rate of calorie retention or burning.
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