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Where You Store Fat Predicts Risk for Heart Attacks

Storing fat primarily in your belly is a far stronger risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and premature death than just being overweight. A study of 5696 adults used dual energy X-ray absorptiometry to classify them as storing fat primarily in their bellies or buttocks (Clinical Endocrinology, June 2014;80(6)). The more fat you store in your belly, the more likely you are to have high total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol. Storing fat primarily in your buttocks is associated with lower triglycerides and higher good HDL cholesterol.

Why Belly Fat Harms
When you store fat in your belly, you also store fat in your liver. Having extra fat in your liver prevents the liver from responding to insulin and controlling your blood sugar levels. A high rise in blood sugar damages every cell in your body to increase risk for diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancers and death.

Your liver controls blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels drop, your liver is supposed to release sugar from its cells to raise blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels rise, your liver lowers blood sugar levels by responding to insulin which drives sugar from the bloodstream into the liver cells.

How Common Is Fatty Liver?
Ultrasound pictures (sonograms) indicate that almost 22 percent of North Americans store excess fat in their livers and are at high risk for diabetes (American Journal of Epidemiology, 05/28/2013). Since more than 90 percent of these people did not drink alcohol to excess, the cause of their fatty livers (and diabetes) is eating too much food, being overweight, not exercising, lacking vitamin D, eating too much sugar-added foods and drinks, red meat, and fried foods and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Alcohol is the second most common cause of liver damage. That means that more than 32 million North Americans eat too much and exercise too little and, as a result, have damaged livers that cause them to be diabetic or pre-diabetic.

Exercise to Treat Pre-Diabetes and Diabetes
The vast majority of diabetics have plenty of insulin. They cannot respond to insulin and this is called insulin resistance. Just two weeks on an exercise program of interval training reduced insulin resistance in diabetics (The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, April 2014;54(2):203-9). The patients performed six sessions of running very fast on a treadmill for 30 seconds, jogging slowly for four minutes of recovery, and then repeating this sequence three more times.

Resting muscles remove virtually no sugar from the bloodstream. On the other hand, contracting muscles can remove sugar from the bloodstream without even needing insulin. The more intensely you exercise, the more effectively muscles can remove sugar from the bloodstream. Caution: intense exercise can cause heart attacks, so check with your doctor.

June 8th, 2014
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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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