Why excess belly fat is especially harmful | CraigDailyPress.com

Why excess belly fat is especially harmful

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health

There are a lot of habits and foods that can increase our waistlines, but visceral fat is a particular kind of fat that's particularly dangerous to overall health.

Visceral fat, or excess belly fat, is a deeper fat that affects the functioning of hormones and has been linked to increased risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

"It appears like a gelatinous substance and will contribute to extra inches around your waist," said Dr. Cynthia Reed, a Family Medicine Physician at Memorial Regional Health Medical Clinic. "Visceral fat is especially dangerous, because these accumulated extra fat cells are associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, diabetes, depression, sleep disorders and sexual dysfunction."

Visceral fat is toxic in the human body because it disrupts normal function and results in chronic inflammation, which can interfere with normal hormonal functioning, Reed said.

Dr. Gerald Myers, a cardiologist and internal medicine physician at Memorial Regional Health, said visceral fat can act almost like its own organ due to its capability of having such a large impact on the body.

Why visceral fat matters

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The Harvard Medical School reports that, for most people, about 90 percent of fat is what's called subcutaneous, the kind that lies in a layer just beneath the skin and feels soft if you poke your belly. The remaining 10 percent is the visceral or intra-abdominal fat, which lies out of reach, beneath the firm abdominal wall.

"It’s found in the spaces surrounding the liver, intestines, and other organs. It’s also stored in the omentum, an apron-like flap of tissue that lies under the belly muscles and blankets the intestines. The omentum gets harder and thicker as it fills with fat," according to Harvard Medical School. "Although visceral fat makes up only a small proportion of body fat, it’s a key player in a variety of health problems."

When there's too much glucose in the bloodstream and cells already have filled glycogen stores, glucose is stored as fat, Myers said. It happens more quickly when consuming refined processed carbohydrates — such as white bread, pasta and white rice — and high-sugar foods. These foods are converted into simple sugars that enter the bloodstream and trigger a larger release of insulin from the pancreas, he said.

"The result is usually weight gain, plus even more hunger, which leads to continued overeating and a vicious cycle that makes it hard to stop eating sweets," he said.

A 2016 American Heart Association study published in its journal, Circulation, found that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages every day is associated with an increase in visceral fat, thus linking sugary drinks to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best approach to avoiding or getting rid of visceral fat, Reed said. This includes eating fresh, not processed or sugary, foods, exercising regularly and avoiding excessive alcohol intake.

"It is also recommended that individuals with known visceral fat and comorbid chronic disease states see their physicians before embarking on a strenuous exercise regimen," Reed said. "It is also noteworthy that a combination of both regular cardiovascular exercise, combined with regular resistance training, appears to be more effective than either exercises are on their own for combatting and controlling abdominal obesity."

Why visceral fat is dangerous

Visceral, or excess belly fat, is linked to the following chronic conditions.

• Cardiovascular disease

• Type 2 diabetes

• Dementia

• Asthma

• Breast cancer

• Colorectal cancer

• Increased blood pressure and blood sugar levels

• Higher triglyceride levels

• Lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol

* Source: Harvard Medical School

Gut check

A tape measure is your best home option for keeping tabs on visceral fat. Measure your waistline at the level of the navel — not at the narrowest part of the torso — and always measure in the same place.

Don’t suck in your gut or pull the tape tight enough to compress the area. In women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or larger is generally considered a sign of excess visceral fat, while 40 inches is the number for men. But that may not apply if your overall body size is large. Rather than focusing on a single reading or absolute cut-off, keep an eye on whether your waist is growing (i.e. are your pants getting snug at the waist?). That should give you a good idea of whether you’re gaining unhealthy visceral fat.

* Source: Harvard Medical School