26. Why Insulin Doesn’t Make Us Fat

Although insulin promotes storage of fat in adipose tissue, this occurs in the context of multiple layers of regulation where energy balance is the final determinant of how much fat we store. In a caloric deficit, the low energy status of muscle and heart will lead them to take up fat rather than adipose tissue, even in the presence of insulin. Insulin combined with low energy status will promote the uptake of glucose in skeletal muscle over adipose tissue and will promote the oxidation of glucose rather than its incorporation into fat. Some advocates of the carbohydrate hypothesis of obesity have argued that glucose is needed to form the glycerol backbone of triglycerides within adipose tissue. Although glucose can serve this role, it isn’t necessary because adipose glyceroneogenesis and hepatic gluconeogenesis can both provide the needed glycerol phosphate. Further, low energy status promotes the use of glycerol as fuel and high energy status is needed to promote the formation of glycerol from glucose. Finally, fatty acids are needed to store fat in adipose tissue and they overwhelmingly come from dietary fat in almost any circumstance. Insulin can only promote de novo lipogenesis, the synthesis of fatty acids from other precursors such as carbohydrate, in the context of excess energy, and this pathway is minor in conditions of caloric deficit, caloric balance, or moderate caloric excess. Thus, although insulin does promote storage of fat in adipose tissue, it doesn’t directly affect energy balance, and energy balance is the determinant of how much fat you store overall.