Diabetes and The Importance of Banishing Belly Fat

The apple-shaped body, one that has substantial visceral fat, is associated with health problems such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and kidney disease.

Visceral fat, also called intra-abdominal or belly fat, refers to fat cells that get packed around our abdominal organs (e.g., liver, stomach, kidneys).

The problem with visceral fat is that it’s not inert. While all fat is metabolically active, belly fat seems to be more active than the fat that settles around hips and thighs. Among other things, it releases hormones that instigate insulin resistance, and the chronic inflammation now associated with many illnesses.

Genes To Blame?

Some of us may be genetically prone to amassing fat around our middle. Researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston found that certain genes express themselves differently in normal weight versus overweight people. They could determine a person’s level of obesity, and whether their fat was visceral or subcutaneous (under the skin) simply by looking at the expression level of these genes.

Though the Joslin study did not signify whether the genetic activity was a cause or an effect of obesity, it suggests that how a particular body tends to store fat is a developmental issue starting early in life. However, no matter why it occurs, the pressing issue is that belly fat creates health problems, including one those with diabetes are at high risk for—kidney disease.

Kidneys and Belly Fat

Investigators in the Netherlands studying the link between an apple-shaped body and kidney disease found that even small increases in belly fat strains kidney function by raising the kidneys’ internal blood pressure. This was true even for apple-shaped individuals, men and women, who were generally healthy and had normal cardio blood pressure.

The problem is not that abdominal fat weighs down the kidneys. The scientists surmise that visceral fat triggers inflammation or insulin resistance that hampers kidney blood flow. The fat might also generate cell damaging free radicals. Whatever the harmful mechanism turns out to be, getting rid of belly fat is clearly in our best interest.

Banishing Belly Fat

Fortunately, those with an apple-shape can banish belly fat quicker than they might imagine through consistent effort. They should, according to Dr. Marie Savard, author of The Body Shape Solution for Weight Loss and Wellness, work on getting inches off their waist - instead worrying about numbers on a scale - and focus on the quality of their food.

The inches will come off with regular aerobic exercise, and by eating a low sugar, low carb diet that is high in fiber, provides adequate protein, and contains healthy fats such as those in avocados, walnuts, or salmon.

Even taking a couple inches off the waist can significantly lower our risk for future health complications. It may also help people with diabetes stabilize daily glucose levels, and enhance their overall sense of well-being.

Sources: Savard, Marie, M.D., The Body Shape Solution for Weight Loss and Wellness, Atria Book, 2013; Joslin; Live Science; Diabetic Living
Photo credit: Tony Alter

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