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Belly Fat
Photo: Maira Kouvara
“He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself....” ('Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement Clarke Moore).

Of course you know who the poem is talking about, especially around this time of year. Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are always the hardest to keep the weight off, especially around the belly. Let's talk about what scientists are learning about “belly fat,” especially the kind inside the abdomen.

Fat (adipose) tissue is not just a passive storehouse for energy. It is tissue with a powerful ability for metabolism, sending chemicals through the body via the blood stream. Research has shown that as fat tissue accumulates around the intestine and other abdominal organs, there is an increased risk of developing metabolic disorders and heart disease.

As fat cells within the abdomen accumulate, they also enlarge in size. These enlarged fat cells produce chemicals that eventually prevent insulin from carrying out its normal process of acting on the cell walls to allow glucose to enter body cells—especially liver and muscle cells. Hence, the cells' ability to use glucose for energy is decreased, resulting in a metabolic problem called “insulin resistance.”

Insulin Resistance

In fact, abdominal fat has been found to be more closely related to insulin resistance than overall obesity.

In an effort to compensate for this insulin resistance, the insulin-producing cells must release more insulin into the body. Eventually, the body is unable to produce adequate levels of insulin. This results in high blood glucose levels, particularly right after a meal. These metabolic problems can result in type 2 diabetes.

Insulin resistance also causes the blood lipid levels to change. The amount of healthy cholesterol carriers (HDL) goes down, and the unhealthy cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides increase.

Excess fat tissue within the abdominal cavity produces higher levels of certain chemicals that decrease the elastic capability of the blood vessels. The inner lining of the blood vessels becomes less smooth. Blood cannot travel as easily through the blood vessels, resulting in higher blood pressure.

Chemicals produced by these large abdominal fat cells are also capable of producing inflammation. The resulting inflammation plays an important role in the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Increased fat tissue around the heart also impairs its function by increasing the mechanical effort needed for the heart to pump the blood.

Many health professionals are suggesting that waist circumference is a better assessment of potential health risks associated with overweight and obesity (such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes) than calculating the BMI (body mass index—a measure of body fat based on height and weight). Don't be surprised if your health care provider measures your waist size in addition to weighing you at your routine health check-up.

Weight loss, particularly a reduction in waist circumference, can reduce these health risks. Weight loss is best achieved through lifestyle modification. A moderate weight loss (five percent to ten percent of body weight) and moderate physical exercise (30 minutes daily) are recommended.

If these are unsuccessful, medications may be added.

Have a joyous holiday season, but for health's sake, try to celebrate without increasing your waist size.

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By Dynnette Hart and Kenneth Hart. Reprinted with permission from Pacific Union Recorder, November 2007. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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