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Belly Fat: How it Harms Your Heart Health

Individuals with excess body fat have an increased risk of a heart attack, but the risk is much higher for those who have an “apple-shaped” body. An “apple-shape” is defined as excess fat that is distributed around your abdomen. This extra fat around your waist is referred to clinically as “abdominal adiposity” and it is now thought of as a “killer figure”.

It is now established that the distribution of fat is more important predictor of health than fatness alone. Apple shaped individuals (those with central adiposity) are more likely to have a greater disease risk than pear shaped individuals.

There are many disease risks that can be predicted by this central adiposity phenomenon. The weight around the middle section correlates directly with visceral fat (the fat stored around the organs).  Individuals who carry fat around their abdomen (even those who are normal-weight) have a higher risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease than individuals whose fat is more concentrated on the hips and thighs.

Research published in the American Journal of Cardiology recently showed that individuals with increased belly fat face a much higher risk of heart problems such as high triglycerides, increased blood pressure and metabolic syndrome compared to individuals with fat elsewhere in their body.

Top three mechanisms for how belly fat harms your heart health:

  1. Central adiposity or obesity (belly fat) means there is excessive visceral fat stored around your vital organs. This type of visceral fat is the type that is stored within the abdominal cavity and therefore is also stored around a number of important organs such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines. Fat that builds up around your abdominal organs is linked to a greater risk for metabolic abnormalities than fat that lies under the skin. Central obesity contributes to heart disease and its complications.
  2. An apple body shape makes heart disease more likely. In general, carrying excess weight around your organs (even in healthy weight individuals) puts one at risk for abnormal blood glucose, insulin insensitivity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, stroke, and elevated fatty acids, which increase the risk for other cardiovascular problems. An apple shaped individual will have a greater waist circumference than their pear shaped counterparts (it is a waist size that is larger than your hips). A waist circumference greater than 35 inches for females and greater than 40 inches for males classifies one as an “apple shape”.
  3. Abdominal adiposity releases excess fatty acids into portal circulation, meaning these fatty acids greatly accumulate in the liver. They also accumulate in the heart and other organs. This leads to organ dysfunction, atherosclerosis and widespread inflammation.

Tips for reducing abdominal adiposity and lowering your risk:

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