We've heard the terms. Spare tire. Beer gut. Dunlap's Disease. Apple shape. Whatever you call it, too much fat around your belly is bad news and not just because it's unsightly or makes your jeans fit too tight. Too much belly or visceral fat is a more dangerous type of fat because it's formed inside the abdomen. Because of that, it surrounds the internal organs, like the liver and intestines and can contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance. That's not good for your health. Here are a few ways your health can be affected.
First of all, visceral (hard) fat differs from subcutaneous (soft) fat. The former sits outside your organs while the latter sits directly under your skin. You can pinch subcutaneous fat, while visceral fat is difficult to measure accurately. About the best way to estimate if you have too much visceral fat is to measure your waist circumference with a tape measure. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a woman with a waist larger than 35 inches or a man with a waist larger than 40 inches carries too much visceral fat. Here are several health risks of too much visceral fat.
Diabetes. A February 2017 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association established an association between excess visceral fat and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One reason may be that visceral fat produces cytokines, harmful immune system chemicals that make cells less sensitive to the effects of insulin. Insulin helps regulate blood sugar.
High Blood Pressure. Cytokines also affect the cells' ability to regulate blood pressure. A 2017 study in the journal Heart found that a mere 5 percent increase in waist circumference increased the risk for high blood pressure by 34 percent for men and 28 percent for women.
Heart Attack. It is well known that too much body fat in general can elevate heart attack risk. Moreover, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, adults who have more belly fat were more likely to have a heart attack than those who were simply heavier overall. This means that carrying more of your excess weight in the abdominal area is an even greater risk. This could be because visceral fat increases fatty acids that signal the liver to produce more bad cholesterol and less good cholesterol.
Dementia. Too much belly fat can also affect brain function. A study published in the journal Obesity found that waist circumferences of 35 inches for men and 33 inches for women were associated with a higher risk of dementia. One reason may be that visceral fat increases inflammation throughout the entire body.
Cancer. Excess belly fat is associated with certain cancers. One study in the European Journal of Cancer found that women whose waists were the same circumference as their hips were four times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to women with smaller waists. Another study found that too much visceral fat doubled the risk for colorectal cancer.
Asthma. Several studies have found a link between larger waist size and asthma risk, even in people of normal overall weight. Again, higher levels of inflammation seem to be at least partly to blame. Also, having more fat in the abdominal cavity could make it more difficult for the lungs to take in as much oxygen as they need.
How to Lose Belly Fat. Forget the ab rollers and gut busters. Belly fat won't go away by targeting it through specific abdominal exercises. It will burn off with aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, cycling and rowing. Adding in some resistance exercise to replace the fat with muscle mass is also important. And don't forget to cut back on your calorie intake by keeping your portions in check. In the end, it comes down to healthy eating and exercise for monitoring excess belly fat.