Big bellies, big problems

By Liz Montes

In the recent journal of Hypertension, an interesting study was completed on how men handle large bellies. Bottom line of the study was simple; any extra body fat accumulated around the middle begins to be too much to handle as you near middle age.

Before the age of 50 men are able to maintain more flexibility of the arteries even though they had 25 percent more body fat. At age 50 this begins to change rapidly. Some time after that age, give or take a few years, the arteries begin to change and are no longer able to maintain that flexibility if they are still carrying a belly load. Younger men seem to be able to. Arteries no longer are willing to adapt and become increasingly stiff. Artery stiffness apparently is one of the early signs of heart disease.

Although the study involved men, the same applies to all of us. We all have what are called elastin fibers that keep the blood vessels stretched. Excess fat produces chemicals that damage those fibers. The fatter you are at a younger age, the more time you’ve had to begin to cause damage to the blood vessels. So, if you’ve been carrying that spare tire around your middle for years, the harmful effects on your heart begin to manifest when you reach middle age.

Heart failure and excess weight have long had the relationship of being a cause for heart failure. And now Swedish scientists confirm this in a recent study published in PLOS Medicine. This Swedish gene study of 200,000 people revealed the cause and effect relationship between being obese or overweight and heart failure. Interestingly, the study went on to also include some other side effects on our other major organs from being fat other than heart failure.

Here is a list of some of the more serious side effects:

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: This common liver disease is caused by the accumulation of fat in the liver. This type of disease affects up to 24 percent of the general population and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Belly fat, insulin and Type-2-diabetes: The study found an even greater connection between diabetes and fat than previously known. Higher BMI’s (body mass index) had an increased risk of diabetes. Obesity causes insulin levels to spike, which increases the risk of diabetes, according to the PLOS study. Bottom line, belly fat can lead to insulin resistance, which causes large fluctuations in blood sugar.

High blood pressure and fat in the arteries: Given that fat can cause heart failure, it isn’t a stretch to learn that fat is linked to high blood pressure. Fatty foods are also linked to high blood pressure because they contribute to a narrowing of the arteries.

Kidney disease: Fat around the kidneys is a good thing — sometimes. Adipose tissue encapsulates the kidneys for protection and “holds them,” but excess fat increases the risk of kidney disease. Kidney disease is responsible for 31.1 percent of premature deaths among people with type 2 diabetes.

Breast Cancer, Fat and Estrogen: After menopause, most women’s estrogen production comes from fat tissue rather than her ovaries. If a woman is overweight and has excess fat tissue, she will have higher levels of estrogen, which fuels the growth of breast and uterine tumors.

Sleep apnea and sleep disorders: Being overweight is linked to snoring and sleep deprivation. Higher BMI’s have been linked to serious sleep disorders and can raise your mortality risk.

These side effects are all scary to imagine. And, many of these things you probably already know. However, with all the information there is on obesity and the dangers of being overweight, it has not sunk in for many people. You too, I’m sure, see the evidence all around us; people are not taking this seriously. We must begin to do this for ourselves, our families and our communities. Can the healthcare system handle the onslaught of so many people with weight-related diseases? The solutions are not easy but attainable for most all of us; diet and exercise! Begin with a walk.


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