Obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes: sex differences and role of oestrogen receptors

Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2011 Sep;203(1):259-69. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.2010.02237.x. Epub 2011 Feb 1.


Obesity increases the risk of coronary artery disease through insulin resistance, diabetes, arterial hypertension and dyslipidemia. The prevalence of obesity has increased worldwide and is particularly high among middle-aged women and men. After menopause, women are at an increased risk to develop visceral obesity due to the loss of endogenous ovarian hormone production. Effects of oestrogens are classically mediated by the two nuclear oestrogen receptors (ERs) α and β. In addition, more recent research has shown that the intracellular transmembrane G-protein-coupled oestrogen receptor (GPER) originally designated as GPR30 also mediates some of the actions attributed to oestrogens. Oestrogen and its receptors are important regulators of body weight and insulin sensitivity not only in women but also in men as demonstrated by ER mutations in rodents and humans. This article reviews the role of sex hormones and ERs in the context of obesity, insulin sensitivity and diabetes as well as the related clinical issues in women and men.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Male
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Estrogens
  • Receptors, Estrogen