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Why does a fat belly increase heart attack risk?

A study from Denmark shows why having a fat belly and elevated triglycerides markedly increases your chances of suffering a heart attack. Your body makes triglycerides from sugar. Abdominal obesity comes from high blood insulin levels. When you eat, your blood sugar level rises. To prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high, your pancreas releases insulin, which converts blood sugar to a type of fat called triglyceride. Insulin also drives triglycerides into the fat cells in your belly. So having high triglycerides and a fat belly are signs of high blood insulin levels, and high blood levels of insulin constrict arteries to cause heart attacks.

Fat cells in your belly are different from those on your hips. The blood that flows from belly fat goes directly to your liver, whereas the blood that flows from your hips goes into your general circulation. The livers of those who store fat in their bellies are blocked from removing insulin by the extra fat and therefore do not remove insulin from the bloodstream as effectively as the livers of people who store fat primarily in their hips. People who store fat primarily in their bellies have higher blood insulin and sugar levels, which raise levels of the bad LDL cholesterol that causes heart attacks, and lower levels of the good HDL cholesterol that prevents heart attacks.

October 18, 2005

If you store fat primarily in your belly you should restrict refined carbohydrates found in foods made with flour, white rice, milled corn or added sugars.

Sit-ups are fine for strengthening your belly muscles, but don't believe they will get rid of a fat stomach. Exercising a muscle does not get rid of fat over the specific muscles that are exercised. If it did, tennis players would have less fat in their tennis arms, but they don't. The only way to reduce a fat belly is to lose weight overall.

Circulation, Volume 111, 2005

May 19th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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