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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Truth About Belly Fat

Belly fat – we all want less of it. But did you know that it may even be a problem for thin people, though they don't know it? And that some of it hides deep inside, around your inner organs, where it may pose a silent health threat if there's too much of it -- no matter what size you wear?

It's true: There's more to belly fat than your size.

Where did it come from? What's it doing to you? And what can you do about it?

Before you go any further, this is not about fat phobia. Your body needs some fat. And it's not about judging yourself or anyone else.

Instead, it's about geography -- where your fat is located -- even if you can't see it.

Location, Location, Location

Not all fat is the same. “It behaves differently in different places,” says Carol Shively, PhD, a pathology professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine. And its behavior is the key to what your fat is doing to you.

People store most of their fat in two ways:

Just under the skin in the thighs, hips, buttocks, and abdomen. That's subcutaneous (under the skin) fat.
Deeper inside, around the vital organs (heart, lungs, digestive tract, liver, etc.) in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. That's called "visceral" fat.

Subcutaneous fat is the fat we can see, and visceral fat is the fat we can’t.

Though many people are self-conscious about the fat they can see, research shows that hidden fat -- in people of any size -- may pose the bigger threat.
Like Another Organ

Fat doesn't just sit idle. It acts like an organ that secretes substances, says Kristen Hairston, MD, who is assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

While visceral fat provides necessary cushioning around organs, Hairston says, it secretes "lots of nasty substances” that can be absorbed by the neighboring organs.

For instance, visceral fat cells release inflammatory compounds that can lead to insulin resistance and some cancers. Excess visceral fat is linked to greater risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancers of the breast, colon, and endometrium.

How Did I Get It?

Everyone has visceral fat -- no matter what you weigh or what size you are. As you gain weight, you gain subcutaneous and visceral fat.

Where your body stores fat depends on your genes, lifestyle factors (such as stress and whether you get enough sleep), age, and sex.

Men under 40 tend to have a higher proportion of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat than women. Women store more visceral fat after menopause.

“Everyone is going to have fat in both places, but it’s a concern for your health if it’s gone over a certain threshold,” Hairston tells WebMD.

In an obese person, the body can run out of safe places to store fat and begin storing it in and around the organs, such as the heart and the liver.

“Fatty liver disease was, until recently, very rare in nonalcoholics. But with obesity increasing, you have people whose fat depots are so full that the fat is deposited into the organs,” Shively says. “Now there is much interest in fat being deposited around the heart, as well.”
How Much Is Too Much?

CT scan or MRI is the most precise way to see where fat is stored. But there are simple – and free -- calculations that can show how you might be storing your fat.

Most experts agree that, no matter what your weight, a waist circumference over 35 inches for a woman and over 40 for a man indicates that you may have unsafe levels of visceral fat.

Source: Sonya Collins

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