Belly fat comprises of visceral fat that is found deep inside the belly, surrounding all the internal organs. It is different from subcutaneous fat, which lies just under the skin. Though belly fat provides cushioning for the organs, too much of this can be a potential harbinger of health complications.
All types of individuals, irrespective of their weight, may have belly fat. A wider belly may lead to a shorter life span, heart trouble, chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer, and other problems like sleep apnea, piles, asthma, dementia etc.
Until recently, scientists believed that visceral fat cells were harmless, non-active, energy-storing tissues. However, fresh studies have indicated that visceral fat cells are actually metabolically active. This means that they secrete a number of hormones and other chemicals that may affect the normal functioning of vital organs.
Now, as visceral fat cells are bigger as compared to normal cells, they release hormones in larger quantities. These excessive hormones flood the body and interfere with its natural balance.
Though scientists are still studying how exactly abdominal fat harms the body, they do have some understanding of how it affects different processes and different organs in our bodies.
Blood pressure: One of the proteins, produced by the fat cells, is a known forerunner of angiotensin. This restricts blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure.
Heart trouble: Fat cells secrete a protein called retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4). This is known to increase insulin resistance leading to blocked arteries and heart disease.
Liver trouble: Visceral fat releases free fatty acids and other chemicals in the blood. As the blood in this entire area flows into the liver, all these chemicals get stored in the liver, affecting the metabolism and disrupting the delicate balance between good and bad cholesterol. This leads to insulin resistance, which causes weight gain and an increased risk of developing chronic diseases, fatty liver disease, and hepatitis B.
Chronic diseases: Fat cells can also generate inflammation leading to the development of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, back pain, osteoarthritis, and cancer.
Cancer: Once a woman reaches menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen. In this condition, the primary source of estrogen becomes the fat tissues that are stored around the belly. More fat cells mean more estrogen and excessive estrogen can lead to breast tumors. The risk of developing colorectal cancer also doubles up in people who have disproportionate belly fat.
Brain: Visceral fat shrinks the brain. Past studies have linked excessive belly fat with a decline in language skills and memory. In fact, extra kilos on the belly also increase the risk of developing asthma and Alzheimer’s in the geriatric population. The risk of developing dementia also increases threefold in people with excessive belly fat.
If you are a man and your waist is thicker than 40 inches or if you are a woman and your waist is wider than 35 inches, then you need to relook at your health goals. To measure, place the tape around your midsection, just above the hip bone. Relax, exhale and measure your waist.
Though weight gain is influenced by genes and body types, being aware of what you eat and incorporating some exercise into your daily routine can go a long way in decreasing belly fat and reducing the risk of its associated health consequences.
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