The relationship of obesity to the metabolic syndrome

Int J Clin Pract Suppl. 2003 Mar;(134):18-27.


Obese patients with the metabolic syndrome generally have a visceral (apple-shaped) fat distribution and are at an increased risk of macrovascular disease, while those with peripheral (pear-shaped) obesity tend not to have metabolic abnormalities and are at less risk. This difference appears to be related to the differing metabolic functions (and secretory products) of visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT), as well as the fact that VAT drains directly into the liver. Thus, it appears that increased VAT, but not SAT, is associated with both hepatic and peripheral biochemical abnormalities leading to insulin resistance and the associated metabolic syndrome. Insulin resistance is associated with VAT products, such as free fatty acids and their metabolites, as well as cytokines, such as tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). These factors may activate components of the inflammatory pathway such as nuclear factor kappa-B (NFkappaB), and inhibit insulin signalling. Insulin resistance is further associated with decreased levels of another tissue product, adiponectin. The incidence and prevalence of obesity is increasing at an unprecedented rate. The classic treatment of obesity is weight loss via lifestyle modification. However, prevention of obesity comorbidity can also be achieved by modifying the mechanisms by which obesity causes these comorbid conditions. For instance, it is now known that the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) family of transcriptional regulators are crucial in regulating adipose tissue development and metabolism; this helps explain why compounds with PPARgamma agonist activity, e.g. thiazolidinediones, increase insulin action through their effects in regulating adipose tissue metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiponectin
  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism
  • Body Constitution
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / pharmacology
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / complications*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / therapy
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology
  • Thiazolidinediones*


  • Adiponectin
  • Blood Proteins
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Hypolipidemic Agents
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Thiazoles
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • 2,4-thiazolidinedione