Obesity is bad for your health, but having excess belly fat is even worse. Besides forcing you to buy bigger pants, it can seriously affect your health in ways you might not realize.
Accumulation of unhealthy fat in the belly, also known as visceral fat, refers to fat surrounding the liver and other organs in the abdomen.
Many people, especially those who have an apple- or pear-shaped body structure, have a bulging stomach due to an accumulation of extra fat in that area.
Fat does not pile on your abdomen overnight. In fact, there are many things that make you gain belly fat.
- Eating lots of foods and beverages that are rich in sugar and fructose can add extra weight around your waist.
- High alcohol intake may lead to belly fat as well as inflammation, liver disease, and other health problems.
- Regular intake of trans fats, one of the unhealthiest fats you can eat, can lead to belly fat as well as inflammation, insulin resistance, heart disease, and various other diseases.
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle is another main cause of accumulation of fat in the abdomen.
- A diet that is low in protein can also cause belly fat.
- Women may gain more belly fat during menopause due to hormonal changes in the body.
- An imbalance in gut bacteria increases your risk of having fat around your abdomen.
- Having too much stress in life leads to an increase in the hormone cortisol, which in turn causes increased abdominal fat.
- A diet that is low in fiber and high in refined grains may lead to increased belly fat.
- Genetics also play a major role in high waist-to-hip ratios and storage of excess calories as belly fat.
- Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep may lead to weight gain, including belly fat.
No matter the reason behind your belly fat, one thing is for sure –it is not good for your health. There is extensive research going on about abdominal fat and its health impacts.
Here are some of the hidden dangers of abdominal obesity.
1. Belly Fat and Diabetes
Having belly fat increases the likelihood of developing diabetes. In fact, if your body stores fat primarily in the abdomen, your risk of Type 2 diabetes is greater than if your body stores fat elsewhere, such as your hips and thighs.
Visceral obesity means more fat accumulates within the key organs responsible for glucose metabolism. This contributes to both insulin resistance and beta-cell dysfunction, favoring abnormalities of glucose homeostasis.
A 2008 study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice highlights the strong association between measures reflecting abdominal obesity and the development of Type 2 diabetes. Reducing your waist circumference may reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
In addition, a 2016 study published in Diabetes Care reports that abdominal obesity is more closely associated with diabetic kidney disease than general obesity.
2. Belly Fat and Cardiovascular Disease
Carrying excess fat around your abdomen, regardless of your overall weight, could significantly impact your risk for heart disease. High belly fat leads to high triglycerides and a low level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol).
A 2008 study published in Circulation found that anthropometric measures of abdominal adiposity were strongly and positively associated with all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality, independent of body mass index.
Also, an elevated waist circumference was associated with significantly increased cardiovascular disease mortality, even among normal-weight women.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that increasing stomach fat is associated with newly identified and worsening heart disease risk factors. The risk remains even after accounting for changes in body mass index and waist circumference, two commonly used methods to estimate whether someone is at a healthy weight.
3. Belly Fat and High Blood Pressure
Having an additional pound of fat inside the abdominal cavity is linked to a higher risk of high blood pressure than having fat just under the skin.
A 2003 study by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia reports that obesity may increase blood pressure by increasing volume rather than constriction. Also, the risk is higher among individuals who have belly fat.
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that individuals with high levels of fat in the abdominal cavity and around their abdominal organs were far more likely to develop high blood pressure, irrespective of their overall amount of body fat. This happens because retroperitoneal fat interferes with kidney function.
4. Belly Fat and Cancer
Carrying extra weight around your waistline can increase your risk of developing different types of cancer, including colorectal, pancreatic, breast (after menopause), and uterine cancers.
A 2013 study published in Cancer Prevention Research shows that abdominal, also known as visceral, fat packed deep between the organs is directly linked to colon cancer.
A recent 2017 study published in Oncogene shows that a certain protein released from fat in the body can cause a non-cancerous cell to turn into a cancerous one.
The study also found that a lower layer of abdominal fat, when compared to fat just under the skin, is the more likely culprit, releasing even more of this protein and encouraging tumor growth.
5. Belly Fat and Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea affects more than 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Having belly fat is one of the risk factors for this kind of sleep problem, particularly for men.
A 1997 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that visceral fat was significantly greater in patients with obstructive sleep apnea than those without, suggesting that visceral fat is an important risk factor for this disorder in both men and women who are obese.
A 2008 study published in Diabetes Care found that abdominal fat and sleep apnea form a vicious cycle, where each results in worsening of the other.
A 2013 study published in the European Respiratory Journal analyzed the relationship between visceral fat and obstructive sleep apnea in men and women who were overweight but not obese.
Researchers found that visceral fat was associated with the disorder in men but not women. In women, subcutaneous fat, located just beneath the skin, in the abdomen and throughout the body was associated with sleep apnea.
Tips to Lose Belly Fat
- Do moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week.
- Strength-training exercises are recommended at least twice a week.
- Work to tone your abdominal muscles by doing crunches or other targeted abdominal exercises.
- Eat a healthy diet by putting more emphasis on plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Stick to lean sources of protein, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.
- Limit the amount of high-fat dairy products, processed meats, and refined grains that you eat.
- Choose moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Keep portion sizes in check to limit your calorie intake.
- Drink more water to keep your body hydrated.
- Avoid beverages with artificial sweeteners or anything with added sugar.