The Dangers of Belly Fat

Looking down and seeing your belly fat is obviously less than desirable in the looks category. But, increased visceral fat around your abdomen can also be dangerous to your health. It can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers.

Insulin resistance can be triggered by insulin resistance

Insulin resistance occurs when the cells of the body have a decreased ability to respond to insulin. Although genetics can play a large role in the development of insulin resistance (and ultimately type 2 diabetes), many of the same lifestyle habits that lead to increased belly fat can also trigger insulin resistance.

When you eat foods that rapidly convert into sugar in the body, insulin levels spike. The more insulin that’s circulating in your bloodstream on a regular basis, the more exposed your cells become to it. Over time, this overexposure can cause the cells to become resistant to insulin. As a result, they no longer let insulin and, in turn, glucose inside.

At this point, high levels of insulin and sugar are trapped in the bloodstream and can’t get into your body’s cells for energy. If this condition isn’t corrected, over time the blood sugar levels become higher and higher until diabetes develops.

Belly fat is a risk factor of metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that identify whether you’re at high risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The more risk factors you display, the higher your disease risk. For instance, a person with metabolic syndrome can be twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times more likely to develop diabetes than someone without any risk factors.

If you display at least three of the following five risk factors, you’re classified as having metabolic syndrome:

  • A large waistline: Men should have a waist circumference less than 40 inches, and women should measure less than 35 inches.

  • Elevated triglyceride levels: Triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL.

  • Low HDL cholesterol levels: HDL, also known as the “healthy” cholesterol, levels for men should be greater than 45 mg/dL. They should be 50 mg/dL or above for women.

  • Elevated blood pressure levels: Normal blood pressure is considered 120/80 mmHg.

  • Elevated fasting blood sugar: Normal fasting blood sugar is measured as 80 mg/dL–100 mg/dL.

Cardiovascular disease impacted by belly fat

Research has shown that visceral fat cells in the abdomen can produce proteins that can be damaging to the body in many ways. One of the proteins produced by these cells constricts blood vessels, causing blood pressure to rise. Additional proteins can trigger low levels of chronic inflammation, which can promote clogging of arteries, leading to increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

Belly fat can increase cancer risk

Increased belly fat can increase cancer risk in both men and women of all ages, but the risk may be even higher for postmenopausal women. After menopause, estrogen production dwindles in the ovaries, leaving the fat tissue to become the main source of this hormone. The larger the fat cells and the more fat cells present, the more hormone that’s produced.

Because women who are overweight have more fat cells (and bigger fat cells) than women of a normal body weight, they have increased levels of estrogen circulating throughout their bodies. This extra level of estrogen can promote the growth of tumors in the breast.

Men aren’t in the clear though. The extra hormone levels circulating from excessive fat tissue can increase the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women.

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