OBJECTIVE: Low sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels in women are associated not only with hyperinsulinemia, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes but also with excess body fatness and abdominal obesity. We tested the hypothesis that an elevated total or intra-abdominal adipose tissue accumulation mediates the relationship between low SHBG levels and an altered metabolic profile. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: We measured body composition (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry [DEXA]) and body fat distribution (computed tomography) in 52 middle-aged (46.7 +/- 0.4, mean +/- SEM) premenopausal women. Insulin and glucose responses to a 75-g oral glucose load and plasma lipid-lipoprotein levels were also measured. RESULTS: Low plasma SHBG concentrations were associated with increased total body fat mass (r = -0.41, P < 0.005) and subcutaneous abdominal (r = -0.39, P < 0.005) and intra-abdominal (r = -0.37, P < 0.008) adipose tissue area. Low SHBG was also associated with a greater insulin response to oral glucose (r = -0.40, P < 0.005), higher triglyceride levels (r = -0.29, P < 0.05), higher cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio (r = -0.51, P < 0.005), but lower HDL cholesterol concentrations (r = 0.65, P < 0.005). When matched for intra-abdominal fat or total fat mass, subjects with either low or high SHBG showed no difference in the insulin response to an oral glucose challenge. Statistical adjustment for differences in intra-abdominal adipose tissue accumulation or total body fat mass also eliminated the associations between SHBG levels and metabolic variables, with the exception of the association between SHBG and HDL cholesterol levels (r = 0.52, P < 0.005). CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that the previously reported relationship between low SHBG levels and increased metabolic disease risk in women is mediated, to a large extent, by concomitant variation in body fatness and intra-abdominal adipose tissue accumulation.

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