Abdominal fat—also known as visceral fat—is the dangerous "active" fat stored around vital organs such as the liver and intestines. If left unchecked, excess belly fat can lead to serious health problems. "Fat is not just a depot to store energy," says gastroenterologist Samuel Klein, MD. "It's a very active endocrine organ that produces hormones, inflammatory proteins and fatty acids and secretes them into the bloodstream." Here are five sure signs your abdominal fat is harming your health, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common health conditions associated with excess belly fat. "It has been shown that people who store body fat in their abdomens are at greater risk to develop diabetes and other chronic illnesses, but why this happens has remained unclear," says Lisa Nicole Harrison, BS. "Our study found lipid release from abdominal fat was substantially elevated during the night, which may be a primary mechanism leading to insulin resistance, a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes."
Heart disease is one of the more scary outcomes of excess visceral fat. "Studies that have examined the relationship between abdominal fat and cardiovascular outcomes confirm that visceral fat is a clear health hazard," says Tiffany Powell-Wiley, MD, MPH, chief of the Social Determinants of Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk Laboratory at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
Liver disease is linked with abdominal fat, researchers warn. "For people who are overweight or have obesity, the best treatment for non alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is weight loss," says Irun Bhan, MD. "A landmark study showed that losing 10% of one's body weight can reduce liver fat, resolve inflammation, and potentially improve scarring."
High Blood Pressure
Previous research has shown the fat stored in your abdomen can "speak" to blood vessels in the stomach, explaining why excess belly fat can lead to high blood pressure. "Our basic thought is that these hormonal signals, or 'talk,' between fat and blood vessels are very different in those people who have hypertension and those who don't," says Greg Fink, PhD, a professor in pharmacology and toxicology in MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine. "In order for us to figure out why this fat raises blood pressure, we need to understand the messages being sent."
Studies show belly fat and depression are strongly correlated. "Our results suggest that central adiposity – which is commonly called belly fat – is an important pathway by which depression contributes to the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes," says Lynda Powell, PhD. "In our study, depressive symptoms were clearly related to deposits of visceral fat, which is the type of fat involved in disease."