Is visceral obesity the cause of the metabolic syndrome?

Ann Med. 2006;38(1):52-63. doi: 10.1080/07853890500383895.


Despite the fact that controversy remains around the underlying pathophysiological processes leading to the development of the metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance and/or hyperinsulinemia versus abdominal obesity), there is increased recognition that abdominal obesity is the most prevalent form of the metabolic syndrome. Although it has been well established that there is a greater prevalence of chronic metabolic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in obese patients than among normal weight individuals, obesity is a remarkably heterogeneous condition and not every obese patient is characterized by co-morbidities. In this regard, body fat distribution, especially visceral adipose tissue accumulation, has been found to be a major correlate of a cluster of diabetogenic, atherogenic, prothrombotic and proinflammatory metabolic abnormalities referred to as the metabolic syndrome. Due to its anatomic location and peculiar metabolic, hyperlipolytic activity, the expanded visceral adipose depot is a key correlate of the altered cardiometabolic risk profile observed among individuals with a high-risk abdominal obesity phenotype. Evidence suggests that this dysmetabolic profile is predictive of a substantially increased risk of coronary heart disease even in the absence of classical risk factors. Finally, a moderate weight loss in initially abdominally obese patients is associated with a preferential mobilization of visceral adipose tissue, which in turn leads to substantial improvements in the metabolic risk profile predictive of a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and of type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Viscera