the shape to be in?

by Kate Shapland

Much as we might dislike it and eternally try to pare it down, the truth is that the familiar female pear shape (heavy around the hips, bottom and thighs and much maligned by virtually every woman on the planet) is actually good news in health terms, cellulite or not. Here’s why.

It’s the pot-bellied apple shape, with its barrel-like accumulation of fat around the internal organs and lack of a clearly defined waist, that has been strongly associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart and circulatory disease, breast and endometrial cancer and even infertility.

Under biochemical scrutiny, fat cells from the centre of your body can be seen to be behaving differently, being more resistant to insulin and having both unusually high levels of more potent ‘free’ oestrogen hormones and lower levels of a key protective protein known as sex hormone binding globulin.

Fat cells from the centre of your body behave differently

These hormonal differences may explain why apple-shaped women also have a three-fold higher risk of developing a tumour in their breasts, and also why they are as much as 15 times as likely to get cancer of the endometrium (womb lining) if their waist swells to a point where measures more than the hips.

Although men are generally more apple-shaped than  women – which is why it’s often referred to as ‘male pattern obesity’ – when a woman’s shape deviates from the norm for her sex, and becomes plumper around and just above the waist, it puts her into the higher risk category sooner than a man.

One study found that women who have more fat in their hips and thighs are at a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

Published by the journal Cell Metabolism the research shows that having a bit of extra fat in a woman’s lower half acts as a sponge and stops fat from travelling to the internal organs thus, acting as a protectant for the heart and lungs. It’s like ‘safe storage’ for fat cells.

So the pear-shaped body type is thought to be far superior in health terms than the apple-shaped figure, whereby fat is predominantly stored around the middle and can subsequently release potentially harmful chemicals into the bloodstream more easily.

However, the research showed that this protectant was less effective in women who were already overweight, as the fat levels in their hearts and lungs were already too high.

The results were acquired through MRI scans and regular health checks which monitored fat distribution.

Known as subcutaneous fat, the extra weight on our hips and thighs differs greatly from that which settles in our abdomen, known as visceral fat. The latter releases harmful chemicals that severely inhibit our cardiovascular health.

This releases fatty acids into the blood which can lead to high cholesterol, insulin resistance and diabetes.

The evidence applied to both men and women, however, scientists found that the protective properties of hip and thigh fat is more prominent in pre-menopausal women, who naturally store more fat in the lower halves of their bodies than men.

Interestingly too, recent data reported in the journal Menopause found that black women have 20% less subcutaneous fat than white women, who were more susceptible to visceral fat. For black women, higher visceral fat is a determining factor for heart fat, whereas with white women, overall adiposity is the factor.