Why Abdominal Fat Is Dangerous

Thursday, 14 Aug 2014 03:37 PM

By Chauncey Crandall, M.D.

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Metabolic syndrome is a name for a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes

In more than 25 years as a practicing cardiologist, I have rarely seen metabolic syndrome in a thin person. And typically, the people who develop this condition carry most of their excess weight in their bellies.
 
Although you may think of body fat as an inert blob, it’s actually not. Rather, body fat is made up of living cells. Those fat cells have two purposes:
 
1. Storing energy for later use.
2. Secreting hormones that help regulate appetite and blood sugar levels.
 
All people have fat cells. Slender people just have smaller fat cells. These secrete a beneficial hormone known as adiponectin, which helps your body use insulin efficiently.
 
However, if you’re overweight, your fat cells are large and they tend to shut down the production of this hormone. This makes it more difficult for insulin to do its job — the result is a condition
called insulin resistance.
 
But there’s another problem. When you have a round, heavy abdomen, there’s more there than just the fat that’s under the skin (called subcutaneous fat). There is also fat inside the belly, underneath the stomach muscles.
 
These hidden deposits of fat around your kidneys, liver, and intestines are known as “visceral fat.” This type of fat is much more harmful than subcutaneous fat, because in addition to hampering the effectiveness of the insulin, these fat cells also produce other hormones and proteins that are dangerous — especially because they are located so close to vital organs.
 
For instance, visceral fat cells secrete a protein that contributes to inflammation, which fuels atherosclerosis, the disease process that clogs arteries and sets the stage for heart attack. These fat cells also secrete a protein that constricts the blood vessels, causing high blood pressure.
 
In addition, because this fat is located so close to the liver, the large fat cells drain right into that organ through a portal vein, raising LDL cholesterol. This type of fat is also linked with breast cancer, colon cancer, and may contribute to dementia as well.
 

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Chauncey W. Crandall, M.D., is chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic. Dr. Crandall, who received his post-graduate training at Yale University School of Medicine, is author of Dr. Crandall’s Heart Health Report newsletter.
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