Women and men have similar amounts of liver and intra-abdominal fat, despite more subcutaneous fat in women: implications for sex differences in markers of cardiovascular risk

Diabetologia. 2004 Aug;47(8):1360-9. doi: 10.1007/s00125-004-1460-1. Epub 2004 Jul 28.


Aims/hypothesis: Fat accumulation in the liver has been shown to be closely correlated with hepatic insulin resistance and features of insulin resistance, also independently of body weight. It remains to be established how fat in the liver correlates with that in other depots, and whether any association differs between men and women.

Methods: Liver fat (assessed using proton spectroscopy), intra-abdominal and subcutaneous fat (measured using magnetic resonance imaging) and markers of insulin resistance, including serum adiponectin, were determined in 132 non-diabetic subjects: 66 men (age 41+/-1 years) and 66 women (age 42+/-1 years).

Results: Although the women had almost twice as much subcutaneous fat as the men (5045+/-207 vs 2610+/-144 cm3, p<0.0001), amounts of intra-abdominal fat (1305+/-80 vs 1552+/-111 cm3, NS) and liver fat (6.7+/-0.8 vs 8.9+/-1.2%, NS) were similar. In this study, no sex differences were observed with respect to serum insulin, adiponectin, triglyceride and HDL cholesterol concentrations. Of all measures of body composition, liver fat was best correlated with serum insulin (r=0.58, p<0.001), with no difference observed between men and women. Serum adiponectin was inversely correlated with liver fat content (r=-0.21, p<0.05). Multiple linear regression analysis revealed that intra-abdominal fat was significantly associated with liver fat, independently of serum adiponectin and subcutaneous fat. Liver fat, but not intra-abdominal fat, significantly explained the variation in serum insulin concentrations.

Conclusions/interpretation: Intra-abdominal fat is independently associated with liver fat, whereas subcutaneous fat is not. Liver fat, but not intra-abdominal fat, is independently associated with serum insulin. Men and women with similar amounts of intra-abdominal and liver fat do not exhibit sex differences in markers of insulin resistance (serum insulin, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol and adiponectin).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen
  • Adiponectin
  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Skin
  • Sweden
  • Whites


  • Adiponectin
  • Biomarkers
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins