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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Adipokines the key to shifting that tubby tummy in PCOS

Tuesday, December 08, 2015
If you thought those fat cells creating your tubby tummy were just sitting there, storage for all those extra calories, think again. They’re actively and constantly communicating with the rest of your body through adipokines, the technical term for “messengers from fat cells” Knowing about them and how to manage them is key to breaking the cycles that keep PCOS active. We’re going to meet two of them, adiponectin and leptin, and explore briefly how to loosen their hold on your hormones.

The Messages They Carry

The two messages these adipokines transmit are about 

- whether you have enough fat stores to support a pregnancy and 
- whether you need to eat more, or less. 

Through these messages they affect your ovaries, your digestion, and inflammatory processes right through your body. 


Adiponectin increases the sensitivity of your cells to glucose, encouraging increased use of glucose by muscles. (That’s good.) It also decreases the production of glucose by your liver, and promotes utilisation of fat stores. (That’s good too.) Adiponectin also hoses down inflammation through reducing the availability of arachiodonic acid, a fatty acid from food. (Yep, that gets a tick too.) You want more adiponectin, obviously, but with a tubby tummy the reverse actually happens.


Here’s the paradox. You’d think that more fat cells would mean more adiponectin secretion, to encourage more glucose utilisation and less fat storage. But the opposite is what happens. More fat cells = less adiponectin produced. Why? We don’t know – yet – but no doubt scientists are hunched over their test tubes right now looking for the answer.


Leptin is another adipokine secreted by fat cells. This hormone has two big roles: helping regulate your appetite and allowing fertility. Like adiponectin it’s also helpful in the right quantity. Basically, the more fat deposits you have the more leptin you will secrete. 


Leptin sends two main messages to your brain: One, to let it know you don’t need more food. That reduces your appetite, through reducing secretion of a digestive hormone, ghrelin. The other task for leptin is to let your brain know that you have enough energy stores to support a pregnancy. Both functions are very useful: Without leptin you might eat too much, and you might become pregnant without the resources to support a pregnancy right through to birth and breastfeeding.


But when you have too much leptin circulating (because you have too many full fat cells) your hypothalamus is flooded with leptin messages. This gland in your brain and another, the pituitary, then amplify their fertility messages to the ovaries. As a result your ovaries then receive an overdose of luteinizing hormone, and the tidy process of egg development and release is disrupted. Too many ovary follicles develop at once, contributing to cystic ovaries.


Some aspects of a modern lifestyle affect leptin production: Stress lifts leptin levels, as does sugar, partly through development of insulin resistance.  


In summary, you want just enough leptin, and plenty of adiponectin. If they’re out of balance this can happen:

- Over-stimulation of your ovaries,
Increased insulin resistance
More inflammation

And yet reducing the fat deposits on your abdomen is vitally important if you want to break the hormonal and metabolic cycles that drive PCOS.


How did this tubby tummy cycle develop? Here’s a very basic explanation. First, you may have been born with the genes to secrete too many androgens (male hormones). They promote formation of tummy fat. Then, because you have tummy fat adiponectin secretion is reduced and your blood glucose levels stay high, promoting insulin resistance. This then triggers extra androgen production by your ovaries, which are very sensitive to glucose. The androgen production promotes more tummy fat, and the cycle continues.

How to manage the adipokines (and your tubby tummy)

- Exercise. Daily. Enough. Far and away, exercise is the key success technique for managing insulin resistance. If you’re not getting results you might not be doing it right – get professional advice from an exercise physiologist about how much is ‘enough’ for you.

- Stay away from sugar. I don’t mean just cane sugar, but any sugar or syrup or honey. If it tastes sweet, it’s sugar. Period.

- Manage your stress using time out, meditation, yoga, whatever works for you.

- Don’t smoke, and avoid other pollutants, especially endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA and plasticisers.

- Don’t over-indulge in caffeine or alcohol.

- Love your liver by including fresh unprocessed foods and especially lignans like flaxseeds

Want to know more about hormones? Download your free copy of the ebook "When Good Hormones Go Bad"


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