Fat and protein redistribution with aging: metabolic considerations

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jun;54 Suppl 3:S48-53. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601025.


Aging is associated with a redistribution of both fat and lean tissue within the body. Intra-abdominal fat (IAF) accumulates more rapidly than total fat while the loss of lean body mass is mostly due to sarcopenia. Increase of visceral fat plays a major role in the pathogenesis of insulin resistance, which leads to type II diabetes and also to cardiovascular diseases. This review is focussed on the relationships that exist between the accumulation of IAF and insulin resistance during aging. The various methods available for assessing IAF are briefly reviewed; imaging techniques are the only reference methods, and their availability is limited. Insulin resistance that appears with aging is caused by accumulation of IAF, rather than by aging per se. Studies done in type II diabetic patients suggest that the metabolic link between increased IAF and insulin resistance could well be the increased availability and/or oxidation of free fatty acids. Physical inactivity certainly enhances both IAF accumulation and, more directly, insulin resistance. Independent and significant effects of menopause or of sarcopenia on insulin resistance remain to be established. The influence of hormonal changes, reduced fatty acid utilization, and resistance to leptin on IAF accumulation are also discussed. Although it is difficult to determine the independent influence of each of these factors, IAF accumulation seems to be a central and important determinant of cardiovascular risk. The last part of this review is devoted to protein metabolism and focused on the preservation of protein metabolism in the liver during aging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Body Composition*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Leptin / blood
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Proteins / metabolism*


  • Leptin
  • Proteins