Belly Fat and Heart Disease – The Connection and Risk Factors

Belly fat and heart disease are a growing health concern worldwide. It is estimated that over half of all adults have an excessive amount of belly fat (abdominal obesity).

This puts them at an increased risk of developing heart disease and other serious health issues. Understanding the connection between belly fat and heart disease is important for those looking to reduce their risk and maintain good health.

This article explores the connection between belly fat and heart disease, the causes of belly fat, and the steps you can take to reduce risk.

Causes of Belly Fat

There are many factors that contribute to the accumulation of belly fat, including lifestyle factors such as a lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet, and stress.

Genetics can also play a role, as well as hormonal imbalances and age-related changes, such as menopause.

Lifestyle factors are perhaps the most significant contributors to belly fat. A lack of physical activity, combined with an unhealthy diet high in processed foods and sugary drinks, can cause weight gain and lead to the accumulation of belly fat.

Belly Fat and Heart Disease

Stress is another major contributor to belly fat, as it can cause hormonal imbalances that lead to weight gain and an increase in belly fat.

Genetics, as previously stated, also plays a role in the accumulation of belly fat. Some people are simply predisposed to carrying more weight in the abdominal area, and they may struggle to lose belly fat despite making healthy lifestyle choices.

Furthermore, hormonal imbalances can be a contributing factor for some people in the accumulation of belly fat. For example, women who are going through menopause may experience changes in their hormones that can lead to weight gain and an increase in belly fat.

The Connection – Belly Fat and Heart Disease

Heart disease is a term used to describe a range of conditions that affect the heart, including coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. The connection between belly fat and heart disease is well established, and research has shown that people with excessive belly fat are more likely to develop heart disease.

In fact, people with larger waistlines are at a higher risk of heart disease, including heart failure, than those who carry their weight in other areas of the body.

Belly fat affects the heart in at least 3 ways. It:

Increases levels of harmful fats

One of the primary ways that belly fat increases the risk of heart disease is by increasing the level of harmful fats in the blood, such as triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

These fats can contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to blockages and eventually result in heart disease.

Causes Inflammation

This is a major risk factor for heart disease. Inflammation can cause damage to the arteries and contribute to the formation of plaque, which can lead to blockages and eventually result in heart disease.

Alters the Way the Body Processes Glucose

 Glucose is the primary source of energy for the body, and it’s important to have healthy levels of glucose in order to maintain good health.

However, when the body has too much belly fat, it can become resistant to insulin, which is the hormone that regulates glucose levels. This can lead to high levels of glucose in the blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

What is Heart Disease?

Man Experiencing Chest Pain
Man Experiencing Chest Pain

Heart disease is a general term used to describe a number of different conditions that affect the heart, including heart attacks, angina, and heart failure.

It is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and around the world. Belly fat is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, as it

Scientific Studies – Belly Heart and Heart Failure

Several scientific studies have found a strong link between belly fat and an increased risk of heart disease. One study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2014 analyzed data from more than 15,000 adults.

It found that those with the highest levels of belly fat had a 44% higher risk of developing heart disease compared to those with the lowest levels of belly fat.

Another study published in the European Heart Journal in 2018 analyzed data from over 72,000 adults and found that a larger waist circumference, which is a measure of belly fat, was associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

This was even after controlling for other risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure.

The ways by which belly fat increases the risk of heart disease is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to the release of hormones and other substances that can have negative effects on the cardiovascular system.

For example, visceral fat has been shown to produce more inflammatory cytokines and some other substances than subcutaneous fat.

This can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, which is associated with an increased risk of the buildup of plaque in the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Belly fat has also been associated with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels.

Insulin resistance is a risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and visceral fat has been shown to be a stronger predictor of insulin resistance than subcutaneous fat.

We therefore see that there is strong scientific evidence linking belly fat to an increased risk of heart disease. This highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and waist circumference to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Regular physical activity and a healthy diet can help to reduce belly fat and improve overall cardiovascular health.

Why Is it Difficult to Lose Belly Fat?

Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is a type of fat that accumulates around the internal organs in the abdominal cavity. This type of fat is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat (fat found just beneath the skin).

It secretes various hormones and cytokines that can contribute to insulin resistance, inflammation, and other metabolic disturbances that increase the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.

There are several reasons why belly fat is difficult to get rid of, including:

  1. Hormonal factors: Hormonal imbalances, such as high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) or low levels of testosterone (a male hormone), can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat.
  2. Genetics: Genetics can also play a role in where the body stores fat. Some people may be genetically predisposed to storing more fat in their abdominal area, making it more difficult to lose.
  3. Age: As people age, their metabolism slows down, and they may begin to lose muscle mass. This can lead to a decrease in overall calorie expenditure and an increase in belly fat.
  4. Lifestyle factors: Poor diet, lack of exercise, and high stress levels can all contribute to the accumulation of belly fat.
  5. Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance, which occurs when the body becomes less sensitive to the effects of insulin, can lead to the accumulation of belly fat. This can be caused by factors such as a diet high in refined carbohydrates, lack of exercise, and genetics.
  6. Chronic inflammation: Chronic inflammation can also contribute to the accumulation of belly fat. This can be caused by factors such as a diet high in processed foods and low in fiber, lack of exercise, and stress.

What Can You Do to Reduce Fat Around the Mid-Section?

In order to reduce belly fat, it is important to address these underlying factors through lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress levels, and getting enough sleep.

A Person Sleeping on a Bed in a House

However you should note that belly fat may be more difficult to lose than other types of fat, and it may take a combination of lifestyle changes and medical interventions to achieve significant reductions of it.

Tips – Belly Fat Heart Problems

Reducing fat around the midsection (visceral fat), can be challenging, but it is possible with a combination of healthy lifestyle habits. Here are some tips to help reduce belly fat:

  1. Eat a healthy diet: Focus on eating a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit your intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and refined carbohydrates.
  2. Engage in regular exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. Incorporate strength training exercises at least two days per week to build lean muscle mass, which can help increase metabolism and burn more calories.
  3. Manage stress: Chronic stress can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress levels. Some effective stress-reduction techniques include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and regular exercise.
  4. Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can disrupt hormone levels and increase appetite, leading to weight gain and belly fat accumulation. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night to help reduce belly fat.
  5. Avoid smoking and excess alcohol consumption: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat and increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions.
  6. Consider medical interventions: In some cases, medical interventions such as medications, bariatric surgery, or other medical procedures may be necessary to help reduce belly fat.

It’s important to note that reducing belly fat may take time and consistency with healthy habits. Be patient with yourself and focus on making sustainable lifestyle changes that can lead to long-term success.

Conclusion

The link between belly fat and heart disease is well-established, highlighting the importance of taking proactive measures to minimize the risk of these conditions.

The adoption of healthy lifestyle practices, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, stress management techniques, and the use of appropriate medications and supplements, can be effective in reducing visceral fat and improving heart health.

It is advisable to seek guidance from a healthcare professional to develop an individualized plan for reducing the risk of heart disease and improving overall health.

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References

American Heart Association. (2021). Belly Fat and Heart Disease. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/belly-fat-and-heart-disease

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Belly Fat. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/belly-fat/symptoms-causes/syc-20354295

Harvard Health Publishing. (2021). Belly Fat and Heart Disease. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/belly-fat-and-heart-disease

Fox, C. S et al (2007). Abdominal visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue compartments: association with metabolic risk factors in the Framingham Heart Study. Circulation, 116(1), 39-48.

Després, J. P. et al (2001). Treatment of obesity: need to focus on high risk abdominally obese patients. British Medical Journal, 322(7288), 716-720.

Tchernof, A., & Després, J. P. (2013). Pathophysiology of human visceral obesity: an update. Physiological Reviews, 93(1), 359-404.

Després, J. P., & Lemieux, I. (2006). Abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome. Nature, 444(7121), 881-887. doi: 10.1038/nature05488

Srikanthan, P., & Karlamangla, A. S. (2011). Relative muscle mass is inversely associated with insulin resistance and prediabetes. Findings from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96(9), 2898-2903.

Iacobellis, G., & Sharma, A. M. (2008). Epicardial adipose tissue as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. International Journal of Obesity, 32(6), 812-819. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2008.7

Lee, C. D., Blair, S. N., & Jackson, A. S. (1999). Cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69(3), 373-380.

Kuk, J. L et sl (2016). Visceral fat is an independent predictor of all-cause mortality in men. Obesity, 24(2), 542-548.

Lê, K. A et al (2013). Ethnic differences in pancreatic fat accumulation and its relationship with other fat depots and inflammatory markers. Diabetes Care, 36(3), 574-579.

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2 thoughts on “Belly Fat and Heart Disease – The Connection and Risk Factors”

  1. Ceci,

    First off, your article is well-researched! Thank you for your thoroughness.

    You mentioned that hormones are a likely cause of increased belly fat. What tests can people take to determine their cortisol and testosterone levels? Aside from doing blood draws often, are there other ways to figure that out?

    I absolutely stand behind a good diet and exercise as a way to lose weight. You also mentioned a good sleep routine, which is critical. I call it ‘living in the SEA’ (sleep, exercise, appetite). If we live in the SEA then we’ll do just fine.

    Thanks for your article!

    Reply
    • Hi Robert,

      I love your SEA routine (sleep, exercise, appetite)! It’s a great reminder. Many people tend to only focus on exercise and diet while allowing their sleep routine to suffer.

      I suggest that you consult your doctor about alternate tests for cortisol and testosterone levels as I only know about blood work.
      Thanks for the read!

      Ceci

      Reply

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