Abdominal fat produces, in contrast to fat in other parts of the body, substances that can bring clear disadvantages to the body. The health complications related to excess abdominal fat is alarming due to the number of people affected who are overweight and have excess adipose tissue.
These increase the appetite and promote the appearance of typical diseases today, from diabetes to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and Alzheimer's. So, it's worth saying goodbye to belly fat. Read about how belly fat can become a health risk and what you can do to shed those extra pounds.
Belly fat is just as dangerous as smoking
Being overweight has long been known to be a health risk. People who are overweight (BMI over 40) even have a shorter life expectancy of 8 to 10 years. This makes obesity as dangerous as smoking.
BMI stands for Body Mass Index. This index is the most important rule of thumb for estimating body weight. You can easily calculate your BMI yourself: take your body weight in kilograms and divide it by the square of your height in meters.
However, recent studies say BMI is only conditionally significant. Although increased BMI values have been shown to correlate with shorter life expectancy, the corresponding studies do not make any statements about the type of fat distribution.
Of course, one does not find out by taking your BMI if the overweight has settled in the abdomen or rather in the buttocks, hips and legs. The BMI is also high, even if someone is not overweight at all, but has built up a decent amount of muscle.
Belly fat and physical activity
BMI cannot serve as the only sign of whether or not a person is harmed by “being overweight”. For example, there are studies showing that overweight people who exercise regularly are healthier than those of normal weight and weak.
For one thing, regular exercise lowers blood pressure and blood sugar levels, thus protecting against cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, sport helps reduce stress and lowers insulin and cortisol levels.
Increased cortisol levels, in turn, is one of the reasons that influence fat storage in the abdominal area. As a result, overweight athletic people generally gain less belly fat than a relatively lean sedentary, and that's what can be crucial.
Fat deposits are less harmful than belly fat
While the much-mentioned “buoys” and fat deposits in the extremities (typical of female fat distribution) are harmless to some extent, abdominal fat (also called visceral fat) poses a greater risk to health even with an otherwise slim physique.
This can be explained by the increased production of hormones from adipose tissue and inflammatory factors, which are released mainly from abdominal fat and much less from other fatty tissues. However, if obesity and excess abdominal fat are combined, the risk of complications is higher.
The presence of abdominal fat is difficult to identify at first
Belly fat first forms around the abdominal organs. Like so-called intra-abdominal fat, it lines the intestine and other organs of the digestive system and may not initially be recognized. Only with increased fat deposition does the belly visibly swell.
But whether you see belly fat or not, it can be detrimental to your health in both cases.
What are the causes of belly fat?
Why stomach fat deposits occur in some people and not in others is not yet fully understood. The beer belly theory remains controversial.
Phytohormones (hormonal-type phytochemicals), which are found in hops and therefore also in beer, have an estrogen-like effect and therefore in case of excessive beer consumption, as is typical of estrogens, they promote overweight. However, it is questionable whether estrogens have a significant influence on the location of fat storage.
In any case, it is indisputable that a positive energy balance (the body obtains more energy than it consumes) leads to obesity, which applies to the consumption of beer with alcohol.
But even a positive energy balance doesn't necessarily lead to a fat belly. Some people are more likely to accumulate fat on the buttocks, thighs, and hips.
However, interestingly it has been shown that, above all, a diet very rich in carbohydrates with a lack of essential amino acid intake can obviously lead to an increase in abdominal fat.
In addition, as already indicated above, the increase in cortisol levels can favor the attachment of adipose tissue to the abdomen.
For the increase in cortisol levels, there can be several reasons: these include, in particular, physical inactivity, but also chronic stress, a morbid overproduction, and of course, cortisone therapy due to inflammatory diseases. (Cortisone is the synthetic stress hormone, cortisol is the body's stress hormone.)
Health complications from excess abdominal fat
But what causes belly fat on the body? How does it affect our health and well-being?
1. Belly fat produces hormones
A particularly unfavorable characteristic of abdominal fat is its hormonal activity. So far, more than 20 hormones and other substances have been found to be released from body fat into the blood.
It is these hormones that are associated with cardiovascular disease, vascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and an increased risk of cancer.
2. The more abdominal fat, the more appetite
Two of the hormones secreted from fat tissue are leptin and adiponectin. These regulate the sensation of hunger and food intake. The more fat we accumulate in our abdomen, the more leptin we produce.
High levels of leptin signal to our brain that we are full and do not need food at the moment. Low leptin values immediately lead us to search for food as quickly as possible, usually the selected food is not healthy, such as fast food or snacks.
Obese people, understandably, produce a lot of leptin and therefore shouldn't be hungry. However, nerve cells in the brain, which serve as receptors for leptin, eventually become inactive and lead to resistance to leptin.
Due to the constant excess supply of leptin in the blood, the body is insensitive to its appetite-suppressing effect. Furthermore, the resistance to leptin acquired through obesity leads to a feeling of unrestricted hunger and ensures that the belly fat increases more and more.
This is why a treatment with the hormone leptin would not make sense due to this resistance. Hopes of being able to treat obesity with leptin supplements will now be dashed.
3. Abdominal fat and increased risk of diabetes
The tissue hormone adiponectin produces a decrease in the whole fat cells and therefore the reduced blood levels of this messenger substance is characteristic in obese people. However, as soon as the adiponectin level is low, this condition leads to a weakening of the effect of insulin, which is called insulin resistance.
Insulin is supposed to lower blood sugar. If insulin is now weak due to low levels of adiponectin, it is understandable that the level of sugar in the blood rises and with it the risk of diabetes.
Several studies have shown that messenger substances emitted by abdominal fat make the insulin receptors in the body's cells less sensitive.
If cell receptors have become insensitive to insulin, glucose (blood sugar) cannot enter cells. If the triggers of insulin resistance, such as the release of the previously mentioned messenger substances from abdominal fat, persist, a vicious cycle of insulin resistance (increased blood sugar) and increased secretion is created insulin.
At some point, the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas weaken and chronic type 2 diabetes mellitus develops, which now requires a dose of insulin containing medications.
4. The level of "bad" cholesterol increases
Since insulin also influences fat metabolism, there are now increasing levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as fatty liver disease.
The combination of obesity, high blood sugar levels, and rising blood lipid levels is usually accompanied by the following symptoms: hypertension and arteriosclerosis.
Especially the development of atherosclerosis can be strongly promoted by belly fat.
5. Belly fat is bad for the heart
Medical studies have shown that obesity and especially abdominal obesity, that is, stomach fat, can significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and in particular atherosclerosis.
In addition, the adipose tissue of the belly releases certain inflammatory messengers. They are called cytokines.
Cytokines include tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin-6. If these messenger substances circulate more and more in the body, then the body is in a state of chronic subliminal inflammation.
Such chronic inflammation has been shown to be involved in the development of arteriosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis, in turn, leads to hypertension (if not previously present) and ultimately heart attacks or strokes.
6. Excess abdominal fat favors thrombosis and embolism
Another group of substances that is increasingly produced by abdominal fat are the so-called plasminogen activator inhibitors (PAI). These are specific proteins involved in blood clotting. They act as inhibitors of fibrinolysis.
Fibrinolysis (from the Latin lysis, "to dissolve") is the dissolution of blood clots by the body. Thus, fibrinolysis ensures that our blood always remains very fluid, that no blood clots can form, and therefore no thrombosis or embolism can surprise us.
But when the belly fat sends PAI into the blood, the body can no longer adequately fulfill fibrinolysis. There is a slower breakdown of blood clots, which can later develop into larger thrombi.
These thrombi can obstruct the vessels locally and cause thrombosis. It gets even worse when a thrombus separates from the wall of the vessel and becomes an embolus (a blood clot that floats freely in the bloodstream). Then this blood clot can cause a stroke or a heart attack.
A belly with excess fat tissue has an unfavorable effect on cardiovascular health. But also, the airways and even our mental fitness are affected by belly fat.
7. May cause asthma
With each inhalation, our diaphragm contracts, pushing down on the abdominal organs and widening the chest. The lungs create a vacuum and the suction air flows in.
Too much fat on the belly can make the breathing process difficult. Breathing becomes flatter. Obese people often suffer from shortness of breath. They take short, quick breaths, their lungs filling incompletely.
Furthermore, messenger substances released by abdominal fat can cause inflammatory processes in the lungs. This in turn can cause respiratory distress and asthmatic discomfort.
8. Belly fat increases the risk of Alzheimer's
The actual causes of Alzheimer's disease are not yet fully understood. For a long time it was assumed that the predisposition to this disease is hereditary. In fact, we now know that genetic factors only play a role in 5-10% of those affected.
On the other hand, risk factors, in addition to exposure to aluminum, could explain a large number of specific pre-existing conditions. Interestingly, these include those diseases that we have just described in great detail with belly fat, namely cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and insulin resistance or diabetes.
However, in recent studies, abdominal fat is not only mentioned as a risk factor for the aforementioned health problems, but is directly related to the increased risk of Alzheimer's.
For example, in a study of 700 adults, American scientists found clear associations between increased abdominal fat, reduced brain volume, and increased risk of dementia.
9. Cancer risk increases in people with abdominal fat
Several studies also suggest that fat in this area of the body increases the risk of cancer. Scientists suspect that, among other things, this may be due to chronic inflammatory processes, which have already been mentioned several times, and which are triggered by abdominal fat and its pro-inflammatory messenger.
Hormones released from belly fat play a role here too. There is an increased risk, especially for gastrointestinal cancers such as colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and liver cancer.
How do I know if I have excess abdominal fat?
What about your belly fat? Is their size still within the normal range or should you do something about it urgently? A blood test can provide you with clear information about the values you should watch out for (blood sugar, blood lipids, cholesterol, markers of inflammation, etc.).
However, you can also measure your own personal risk beforehand, at least if you have a tape measure handy.
To do this, place a measuring band at the level of the belly button and measure the abdominal circumference. In women, it is from a value of 80 cm, and in men of 94 cm that there is a strong suspicion of a too high content of abdominal fat, which is a statistically higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, as well as diabetes type 2.
If you are taller than 88cm (as a woman) or taller than 102cm (as a man), then there is no doubt that your belly is definitely too bulky, and the risk of the aforementioned diseases is even much higher.
In any case, we should try to reduce our belly fat. But how? We present you suitable holistic and healthy measures below:
Try to eliminate belly fat
In order to get rid of belly fat, the so-called ADR rule is recommended as a support program. The abbreviation stands for abdominal exercises, diet changes, and resistance training. How to apply the ADR rule depends on whether you have too much belly fat at a relatively normal weight or whether you have too much belly fat in combination with significant obesity.
If you belong to the first group, in addition to a targeted bodybuilding training with integration of varied abdominal exercises, it will also be good to implement a low-carbohydrate diet (few carbohydrates, but more high-quality proteins and healthy fats plus a lot of vegetables, salads, fruits, etc.) whose caloric content should not be lower than your previous diet.
If you are not only struggling with stomach fat, but also with considerable obesity (BMI of 25 or more), it is advisable to implement the aforementioned diet in the reduced calorie version and combine it with resistance training, bodybuilding and abdominal exercises specials.
Due to reduced calorie intake and resistance training, superfluous body fat is burned. The muscle building program shapes your body and specifically targets problem regions, including belly fat.
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