Belly fat. It’s more than unsightly, and it does more than just sit there. In fact, belly fat is metabolically active and promotes secretion of potent hormones, such as cortisol, which, of course, makes it even more difficult to lose weight. Likewise, the secreted hormones also promote unhealthy systemic inflammation as well as raising a person’s risk for heart failure, cardiovascular disease and DNA alterations that support the growth and metastasis of cancer cells.
Scientists from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston discovered that having too much abdominal fat can lead to a greater risk for heart disease and cancer compared to those who have similar BMI, but who carry fat in other areas of the body. Their study was the first to use CT scans to see which specific fat deposits are linked to disease.
The study was published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology and analyzed 3,086 men and women whose average age was 50. The study spanned seven years, and during the follow-up period, there had been 90 heart-related events, 141 cases of cancer and 71 deaths from all causes among those participating in this study. Interestingly, this study came after a study published in 2012 in which Mayo Clinic researchers discovered that belly fat increases the risk of death even among people of normal weight.
The research team believes that fat where it shouldn’t be in the body, such as excess belly fat, leads to fat stores around internal organs known to promote systemic metabolic dysfunction and increased disease risk. This adds to the mounting evidence that supports the importance of maintaining an optimal body weight—and that losing even small amounts of body fat can reduce the risks of heart disease and cancer.
It’s already known that carrying around that “spare tire” in the middle—excess belly fat—is more dangerous to health than carrying it elsewhere in the body, such as the hips or thighs. What makes it more dangerous is that—as the researchers noted—it is closer to your vital organs such as the heart, liver or pancreas.
Additionally, fat also lives in the blood and is absorbed via the intestines through what is called the omentum—a fatty layer of tissue located inside the belly that hangs underneath the stomach muscles. The omentum can store fat that is quickly accessible to the liver, causing bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels to rise and can take insulin out of circulation, causing blood sugar levels to rise. Since it’s close to vital organs, it can subject them to damage. And the more omentum fat a person has, the greater the chances for more abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high [bad] cholesterol and other risks associated with coronary artery disease—and, according to this newer study, cancer.
But don’t be fooled by those who only appear slim and trim because being thin doesn’t automatically mean that there is little fat. According to recent data, people who maintain their weight through diet rather than through diet and exercise are more likely to have major deposits of internal fat, even though they appear slim. Even those with a “normal” BMI can have high levels of fat deposits internally.
And speaking of weight and BMI. . . Swedish researchers have found that having even a few extra pounds raises the risk of heart failure by a stunning 17 percent, according to results published in the journal PLOS Medicine. In the past, scientists weren’t sure whether obesity was the cause of heart failure or only a marker of another cause. This study, however, implemented a new technique to validate that being overweight is a true trigger of cardiovascular disease. The lead researcher of the study, Dr. Tove Fall, says, “We knew already that obesity and cardiovascular disease often occur together. . . in this study, we found that individuals with gene variants that lead to increased body-mass index (BMI) also had an increased risk of heart failure and diabetes.”
And get this. . . the scientists discovered that an increase of only one unit of BMI raises the risk of developing heart failure and cardiac dysfunction by an average of 20 percent. Additionally, the researchers noted that obesity leads to higher blood pressure, higher insulin levels, worse cholesterol values, increased inflammation markers and raised the risk of diabetes. Dr. Fall concludes, “We can now confirm what many people have long believed—that increased BMI contributes to the development of heart failure.”
Excess weight of any kind has its health risks, but excess belly fat is one kind of fat you don’t want to carry around.