Why Is Belly Fat Dangerous?

I don’t know about you, but ever since I had my first babies (twins) I’ve struggled with my stomach muscles. I’ve never had six pack abs but things got completely out of control after my second pregnancy.

It wasn’t until my youngest boy was 2 that I finally started feeling like maybe there was a chance I might get into a bathing suit again. Of course, it would take months more of work, but I think – MANY years later! – I’m finally arriving.

My problems related more to eating habits and an intense dislike of core work, than it was an aversion to exercise. I actually enjoy exercising each day. If I don’t get in a workout in the morning the kids can tell. It’s a bit like a cup of coffee for me – if momma doesn’t exercise then she ain’t happy.

But doing core work was a different story. So while my legs, arms and heart were strong, my core and balance left much to be desired. And it showed. About 10 years ago I had a large benign tumor removed from my abdomen, which apparently had a bit to do with the SIZE of my belly – but not my dislike of core work. That continued even after the surgery.

This has since changed. It took doing a bit of work for a couple of weeks and enjoying the benefits of stronger abs that helped motivate me to continue – albeit slowly. But slow forward is better than going in reverse, right?

My ex-husband has a different problem. While he has lost a bit of weight lately, he carries the majority of his weight in his mid-section. Unfortunately, this extra weight – in this particular area of the body – is dangerous.

Here’s why . . .

Did you know that there are 4 different types of fat?  Yup! Brown, white, subcutaneous and visceral (belly) fat.

Briefly, brown fat is the most recently discovered type of fat and found to burn more calories than the other three. We have more white fat than brown and the job of this type is to store energy and produce hormones. Subcutaneous fat is found directly under the skin and is usually measured using skin-fold calipers to estimate your total body fat percentage.

Visceral fat is found deep within your abdominal cavity and wraps around your organs. Doctors warn their patients that this visceral fat will increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. That danger received more press after research was presented at the European Society of Cardiology in 2012 where their results showed that people with concentrated visceral fat were 50% more likely to die from all causes compared to those who were obese.

The problems with visceral fat can be complicated and numerous. This is because this type of fat is different from other types of fat in the body. Doctors believe that it promotes insulin resistance and leads to diabetes. In fact, in a study published in the Endocrine Press, data suggests that fat stored in the legs and buttocks is healthier than that stored in the stomach.

Interestingly, people who are within normal limits for their weight on the scale can also have higher risk when they are also carrying high amounts of visceral fat. You may feel less desire to make lifestyle changes when your weight is within normal limits, but making those changes can improve your risk profile for diseases and illnesses.

Records from a study of 6,500 people in Northern California found that those who had a high level of visceral fat also had a higher risk of dementia, even for people who were within normal limits for overall weight but were carrying extra visceral fat and larger bellies. The scientists theorize that this is because the belly fat impacts hormones, such as leptin, that may have some adverse effect on the brain. Although leptin plays a role in appetite it is also important to learning and memory.

Paying attention to both your overall weight and where you are carrying that weight are important factors in your overall health. While this visceral fat is more dangerous to your health, there are things you can do to reduce the amount of belly fat you carry and improve your risk factors.

What Causes Visceral Fat?

What causes fat to build up in your belly and around your organs?

What used to be accepted as middle aged spread we now understand is a significant health risk and not an inevitable change as we age.

Doctors have identified several ways of reducing this visceral fat which point to some of the causes. Interestingly, you can also have a normal weight but still carry visceral fat that increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other inflammatory based illnesses.

Hereditary tendencies are one indicator of where the fat in your body will be deposited. If your mother carried greater weight in her hips, thighs or abdomen, you will also more likely carry fat in the same areas.

After menopause, because of the reduction in estrogen production, more women will experience fat deposits in their abdomen. This reduction in estrogen may also be linked to an increase in cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands, located near the kidneys. This hormone is released during specific activities such as fear, stress, exercising, fasting and eating. Cortisol regulates your energy levels by selecting the type of foods your body will use for energy. It will mobilize the fat stores and under stress it can provide the body with protein for energy.

The body secretes more cortisol during stressful periods of time and during those times cortisol will encourage the deposits of fat in the abdomen, also known as belly fat.

At a cellular level, fat tissue has a particular enzyme that is responsible for converting inactive cortisone to active cortisol. The gene for this enzyme is expressed differently in people and is responsible for the increased deposits of belly fat in people who are chronically stressed.

Signs that your cortisol level may be too high include higher amounts of belly fat, insomnia, increased number of colds, low sex drive, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, insulin resistance, cravings for carbohydrates, fat deposits around the face and neck, bone loss and bowel symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers.

High levels of insulin may also be responsible for further deposits of fat in the abdomen. Diets that are high in carbohydrates create a spike in blood sugar and therefore a spike in the release of insulin. Insulin resistance in diabetes can be attributed to a lack of exercise, moderate to high alcohol consumption, sugary drinks, fructose, inadequate healthy fat intake, and excess fat around the abdomen.


Armed with the knowledge of what causes belly fat, you can reduce the potential that you’ll suffer from this condition or help to treat the deposits you already have.


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