Abdominal Fat, a Serious Health Problem

Abdominal Fat, a Serious Health Problem

Far from being just a cosmetic problem, abdominal fat can be a true health threat. And far from being just a fat storage depot, abdominal fat is actually known to be a gland. This gland produces hormones that travel throughout the body, raising the risk of diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, and other health problems.

In 2001 a newly-discovered hormone, produced in abdominal fat (as well as in the liver and some white blood cells) was linked to diabetes in mice. In January of that year the science journal Nature published an article naming the new hormone resistin, because it caused the body to resist insulin. Giving obese mice antibodies against resistin improved their insulin sensitivity and lowered their blood sugar levels. Injecting normal mice with resistin raised their blood sugar levels and impaired their ability to use insulin. Treating mice with rosiglitazone, an anti-diabetic medication, lowered resistin levels. The scientists concluded that resistin caused insulin resistance, the cause of type 2 diabetes*, at least in mice.

Much further research has been ongoing on resistin and type 2 diabetes in humans. One of the most interesting studies was reported in 2006 in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Researchers at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, compared 30 overweight type 2 diabetic patients, 30 normal weight type 2 diabetic patients, and 28 healthy individuals. They found higher levels of resistin in the diabetic compared with the non-diabetic participants, and higher levels in the overweight than in the non-overweight individuals. Furthermore, blood resistin levels went up as body mass index (BMI)**, blood sugar levels, blood fats, and insulin resistance went up. Blood resistin levels went down as insulin sensitivity went up.

In 2014 the United Kingdom’s National Health Service warned readers about having too much abdominal fat. According to the NHS men with waist sizes over 40.2 inches, or 102 cm, are at 5 times higher risk to develop type 2 diabetes than men with smaller waist sizes. Women with waist sizes over 34.7 inches, or 88 centimeters, are three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women with smaller waists.

In March of 2015, the medical journal Atherosclerosis reported a study of 1,913 participants in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University compared resistin levels with risk of heart disease. They found individuals with high resistin levels had a 40 per cent higher risk of heart failure, a 30 per cent higher risk of heart attack, chest pain, or stroke, and a 31 per cent higher risk of coronary arteries***, than individuals with low resistin levels.

Resistin and related molecules, known as resistin-like molecules, (RELM), are still a matter for research. They have been implicated in inflammation throughout the body, infection, asthma, and arthritis.

Abdominal fat is linked with other harmful molecules as well. In April of 2015 the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility published an article listing interleukin (IL) 6 and 1 beta as molecules found in abdominal fat. They are also linked with type 2 diabetes as well as with inflammation of the esophagus, the tube leading from the throat to the stomach.

Clearly, abdominal fat threatens much more than just our looks. Liposuction is not helpful for anything except appearance, because it removes only subcutaneous fat, just below the surface. To remove visceral fat, the kind among the viscera, or abdominal organs, first, lower calories (I know, but be brave). Eat a healthy diet with a minimum of refined sugar and carbohydrates. Go for whole fruits, veggies, and some tree nuts. Get out and walk, swim, or ride a bicycle at least three times a day. Get 8 hours of sleep per night and learn to handle stress, in order to lower stress hormones. Limit alcohol to two or fewer drinks per day for men and one or no drink per day for women. Avoid smoking.

Our Health Coaches can help change your unhealthy habits that contributed to the accumulation of abdominal fat.

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* Type 1 diabetes is caused by inability of the pancreas to make adequate amounts of insulin. Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, in which the pancreas is making insulin, but the body is unable to use it.

**BMI is a ratio of weight to height. It is found by dividing the weight in kg by the height in meters squared. Internet calculators are available for performing this calculation by plugging in height and weight by either metric or standard systems.

***The coronary arteries lead from the aorta to the heart muscle, feeding oxygenated blood to the heart itself.