Belly fat is more than uncomfortable or bad for fashion.
And my advice is to get rid of it. You don’t need washboard abs or a completely flat belly to be healthy but a particular kind of belly fat – visceral fat is the most dangerous kind of fat around. It is the fat that surrounds your organs and too much of it causes lots of nasty and potentially deadly health problems. Unfortunately your health can really suffer, you can get heart disease, have a stroke, develop diabetes, be more susceptible to cancers, get sleep apnea and even get dementia.
Belly fat cells have the ability to produce hormone like substances
Although the exact process isn’t yet known, what is known is that inflammation throughout the body increases with the production of these hormone like compounds, called cytokines, interlukin-6, TNFa. These compounds are actually part of the immune systmem. Some are anti-inflammatory but some cause inflammation.
Despite the danger of inflammation
there is a useful purpose for inflammation, but it is specific and short lived. Inflammation creates a hostile environment for viruses and bacterias and cause them to die but the problem is that visceral fat cells (aka belly fat) produce more inflammatory cytokines than are good for us. The result is a low grade and constant inflammation which can cause heart disease.
One of the ways that inflammation causes heart disease
is by the damage that cytokines cause to blood vessels and arteries and creating something called ‘vulnerable plaque’. Fat droplets are thought to trigger the release of cytokines –causing inflammation. The cell walls become sticky with cytokines, and then other cells – monocytes – come along to help out, because the body is telling them there is an invader that needs to be dealt with. Monocytes get inside the cell wall to fight the inflammation, once there they mature and become cells called macrophages. These combine with fat in the artery and form a plaque, or build up a thin layer inside the blood vessels. This doesn’t necessarily block the blood flow, but the plaque is thin, or vulnerable, and can easily break – for example with high blood pressure, and then it leakes out into the artery and more macrophages come to block the flow of blood and then you DO get a blockage.
Another way that abdominal fat increases risk for heart disease
is that fat cells in the abdominal region get broken down more readily that fat cells in other areas of the body. They are released into the blood stream and they are channelled into the liver and repacked up as triglycerides and sent back out to the blood stream. As your doctor may have told you, high triglycerides are a risk for heart disease and for stroke because of the damage that can be caused to blood vessels. In addition, inflammation can affect the type of cholesterol you make and one of the effects of too much belly fat is high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol.
Visceral belly fat causes health problems like
insulin resistance, diabetes type 2 and metabolic syndrome (and metabolic syndrome really really increases both your risk of both heart disease and of diabetes). One of the hormones secreted by fat cells Resitin – is implicated in creating insulin problems, and Leptin which controls appetite, seems to have its action impaired in those with too much belly fat. Obese people can develop leptin resistance, a bit like insulin resistance, meaning that they don’t have the same appetite control and keep releasing more leptin. The amount of leptin a person releases is related to the amount of abdominal fat they carry. TNFa is produced by macrophages which belly fat have a lot of. TNF is a type of cytokine which causes inflammation and contributes to the problems of heart disease.
Cancer risk increases with belly fat
When damage to the DNA of a cell is unable to be repaired, then mutant cells result and cancer can occur. Current Research has shown that chronic inflammation impairs the bodies ability to mend DNA. Cytokines don’t just cause inflammation, but they increase oxidative stress and this increases risk for cancers. Cancers that are thought to be increased with visceral belly fat include liver cancer, breast cancer, and especially colon cancer. In addition, the portal vein carries blood from the intestinal area into the liver delivering broken down fat cells or free fatty acids to the liver, along with the blood. The liver is the organ responsible for detoxing the body and if your liver becomes ‘fatty’ as it can with obesity, then its ability to detoxify is lessened, and the liver itself becomes a target for disease.
And even alzhiemers.
Yes, can you believe it, a new study shows links between abdominal obesity and dementia! A recent study of 700 people shows that a bigger belly equals less brain power. Its not the first study to suggest this. A large study by Kaiser permanente of 1049 people indicated that a persons chance of developing dementia was 3 times higher if they were obese and carried too much fat around their belly compared to those of normal weight and normal abdominal girth. But even if you weren’t obese, and just carried too much belly fat, your chances of getting dementia were 89% higher. The study was done by following up on people who had voluntary health checks between the years 1954 and 1973, between the ages of 40 and 45. Overall 16% developed dementia and when adjusted for age, the incidence of abdominal obesity increased the likely hood of dementia. The risk increases as your belly size increases.
Why would this be?
Well, they haven’t figured it all out yet. What is known is that adipose tissue – fat cells- is highly metabolically active and acts more like an organ than individual cells and that could be the problem. Remember leptin – the hormone involved in appetite regulation – the one that obese people have more of and seem to become resistant to? Well leptin can cross through to the brain its thought that this hormone may have compounds which degrade brain neurons.
This is scary stuff – I think you’ll agree but what to do about it?
Luckily for us, visceral fat responds well to diet and exercise. I know…boring boring, who wants to be bothered with that. Well when you think about the costs and benefits, its pretty clear that its worth the effort.
Stay tuned because
Next post I’ll be talking about ways that are proven to help reduce belly fat. But keep in mind that whatever aids we use to help us, they are just a part of the picture. Your diet and your exercise patterns are a critical part of it too.