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Changes in abdominal subcutaneous fat water content with rapid weight loss and long-term weight maintenance in abdominally obese men and women


OBJECTIVE: Insulin resistance decreases blood flow and volume in fat tissue. We hypothesised that fat tissue nutritive blood flow and volume, and thereby water content, would increase during weight loss and weight maintenance in obese persons.

DESIGN: Longitudinal clinical intervention with a 9-week very-low-calorie diet (VLCD) followed by one year of weight maintenance.

SUBJECTS: Obese men (n=13) and women (n=14) with the metabolic syndrome.

MEASUREMENTS: Water content of abdominal subcutaneous fat tissue as estimated by a sensor on the skin surface measuring the dielectric constant at 300 MHz. Anthropometric measures of fatness and fat distribution. Biochemical measures related to insulin resistance.

RESULTS: Subjects lost 14.5±3.4% of body weight during the VLCD, and generally sustained this weight loss during weight maintenance. Insulin sensitivity as estimated by an index (qualitative insulin sensitivity check index) increased during the VLCD, and remained increased throughout weight maintenance. The dielectric constant increased from 23.3±2.3 to 25.0±2.1 (P<0.001) during the VLCD, and further to 27.8±1.9 (P<0.001) during weight maintenance, indicating an increase in the water content of subcutaneous fat. The increase in subcutaneous fat water content did not correlate with weight loss and other measures of adiposity during the VLCD, but there was an inverse correlation that strengthened in significance from baseline to 6, 9 and 12 mo (r=−0.32 to −0.64, P=0.079–0.002). Increases in subcutaneous fat water content also correlated with improvements in insulin sensitivity at 6, 9 and 12 months of weight maintenance (r=0.34–0.54, P=0.094–0.006).

CONCLUSIONS: Water content of abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue increases with weight loss in obese persons with the metabolic syndrome, and may reflect increased subcutaneous fat tissue nutritive blood flow. The increase in water content correlates with the increase in insulin sensitivity, suggesting that weight loss and consequent improved insulin sensitivity could mediate the increase in abdominal subcutaneous fat hydration.

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This study was financed in part by a research grant from Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc, (Baseal, Switzerland).

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Correspondence to D E Laaksonen.

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Laaksonen, D., Nuutinen, J., Lahtinen, T. et al. Changes in abdominal subcutaneous fat water content with rapid weight loss and long-term weight maintenance in abdominally obese men and women. Int J Obes 27, 677–683 (2003).

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  • Insulin resistance
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Subcutaneous fat tissue
  • Very-low-calorie diet
  • Weight maintenance

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