Does oestrogen allow women to store fat more efficiently? A biological advantage for fertility and gestation

Obes Rev. 2009 Mar;10(2):168-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00539.x. Epub 2008 Oct 23.


In normal healthy-weight humans, women have a higher percentage body fat than men, a difference that commences at puberty and continues throughout adult life, suggesting that the mechanism is related to sex steroids. The first half of pregnancy is also a stage of body fat gain in women. From an energy balance point, there is no explanation why women should be fatter than men, as the latter consume more calories proportionately. Moreover, women store fat in early pregnancy when caloric intake does not significantly change. The aim of this review is to focus on evidence supporting one mechanism that may account for these findings. That is, oestrogen reduces postprandial fatty acid oxidation leading to an increase in body fat which may account for the greater fat mass observed in women compared with men and the fat gain in early pregnancy. Therefore, female puberty and early pregnancy could be seen as states of efficient fat storage of energy in preparation for fertility, foetal development and lactation providing an obvious biological advantage. Further research into this mechanism of fat storage may provide further insights into the regulation of body fat.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Male
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Postprandial Period*
  • Pregnancy


  • Estrogens
  • Fatty Acids