HORMONAL FAT STORAGE - part 1 of 3 Now that we are getting closer to the summer, I get more and more questions related to fat, and how do you burn the greatest percentage during exercise. To better understand fat storage and fat burn, you need to have an understanding on how your body works in relation to fat. This month I want to start a trend that over time will teach you more than you will ever know about body fat and how to ultimately burn what you want and store little to no fat in the process. This will not take one simple article, but a series of articles over the entire summer. As the months go on, remember to check back with me and get the latest research on fat physiology.
Let’s briefly discuss last month’s article. Everyone is born with fat cells, and until pre-adolescences they are continuing to develop more fat cells. Some develop at a higher rate depending on lifestyle & habits. Once they have reached a mature enough age the body stops the production of fat cells, and the number that you are left with is permanent. As you gain or lose body fat, you are essentially shrinking or enlarging your fat cells. Different types of fat are stored in different parts of the human body and carry specific functions. Visceral fat surrounds organs and is rich in beta-receptors making it easier to burn and harder to store. Subcutaneous fat is the superficial fat that can be pinched and is rich in alpha-receptors, with a decrease in blood supply this ‘cold’ fat is harder to burn and easier to store.
Most people believe that fat loss or fat gain is as simple as “plus or minus calories = a positive or negative in body weight”. That is simply not true. There is far more than just a surplus of calories that causes one to gain unwanted body fat, as well as it is more complicated than just reducing calories to burn stubborn fat. If you haven’t heard it before, I will be the first one to tell you that loosing body fat, preserving muscle tissue and boosting your metabolism is and must be a combination of proper calorie consumption, weight training, cardio, rest, hydration and nutrient timing. Sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. Our bodies are simple and if you understand how they work, you too can get the desired results you always wanted. It does require work, and lots of self-discipline, but what better place to start than at Hearthstone Health + Fitness.
Hormones! As stated above, a lot of work goes into loosing fat and preserving muscle. When things go right, your hormones levels are ‘happy’ and your body is comfortable loosing fat. When things are forced, or not correct, your body will fight you and hormone levels will spike/drop and fat will become even more stubborn. Last month we discussed the process of how your body burns fat. There are two enzymes that regulate the flux into and out of fat cells: lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which is responsible for fat storage and hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL), which is involved in fat release. Did you notice that the major fat-releasing enzyme is called “hormone-sensitive lipase” and not ‘calorie-sensitive lipase”? I’m hinting that calorie consumption may not be the major contributing factor in unwanted belly fat.
There are several different hormones that can directly and indirectly effect these two powerful enzymes. For this month’s article I want to discuss; insulin (sugar) and cortisol (stress) which directly impact these enzymes along with; testosterone, estrogen and progesterone that indirectly impact.
Insulin when spiked will enhance LPL activity and suppress HSL activity, resulting in fat storage when the body is in an excess of calories and will less likely burn stored body fat when calorie consumption is low. Cortisol is tricky for when activated it enhances LPL and HSL activity. This hormone often gets blamed for being the “belly fat hormone”, but hormones don’t behave in isolation. Instead, they are like people and behave differently depending on who they are “socializing” with. When cortisol (stress) is paired with insulin (spike in sugar levels), you get an increase in LPL activity with a blunted effect on HSL making a perfect recipe for stored body fat. Cortisol when paired with insulin are the real hormonal belly fat bullies.
No discussion of belly fat is complete without considering the impact of the sex steroids. Human fat tissue has receptors for estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, which all impact fat metabolism. Estrogen and progesterone have anticortisol effects on the belly making this combination very effective at controlling belly fat in women. This is a big reason why young ladies hold an hour glass shape and as they age and the levels decrease, it becomes more difficult to maintain the same figure. Testosterone is interesting because higher levels in women are associated with increase belly fat, due to a decrease in estrogen, while low levels of testosterone in men will cause increase gains in belly fat, due to a spike in estrogen. Testosterone decreases LPL activity and raises beta-receptor density. Remember LPL stores fat, beta-receptor’s want to burn fat.
Without going into the details on contributing factors of testosterone and lean tissue production, we want to understand that having a specific ratio of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone is vital in balancing our hormones and regulating how our body burn and stores body fat. Regardless of how healthy one eats, or how hard they train, if they are not taking care of everything else; rest, hydration, stress and nutrient timing, than they will have a difficult time regulating their major hormones that impact fat burn.
Next month, we will discuss insulin and belly fat. Discussion on insulin resistance and its effects on fat storage and lean tissue.