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August 21, 2014, 4:00 pm

A ‘beer belly’ is both unsightly, unhealthy

Are you one of the many people who think you can get rid of that “belly” by strengthening your abdominal muscles? Think again. You can do sit-ups til the cows come home, but nothing short of actual weight loss will do the trick.

It would help if we had a better understanding of those bigger waistlines as we age.

Of course it is on a practical level the result of gaining weight. But ultimately the problem is body fat.

Fat doesn't just sit idle. It acts like an organ that secretes substances.

While visceral fat provides necessary cushioning around organs, it secretes lots of nasty substances that can be absorbed by the neighboring organs.

Visceral fat cells release inflammatory compounds that can lead to insulin resistance and some cancers. Excess visceral fat is linked to greater risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancers of the breast, colon, and endometrium.

There are two types of fat in your abdominal area. The first type is called subcutaneous fat and lies directly beneath the skin and on top of the abdominal muscles.

The second type of fat in your abdominal area is called visceral fat, and that lies deeper in the abdomen beneath your muscle and surrounding your organs.

Visceral fat also plays a role in giving certain men that "beer belly" appearance where the abdomen protrudes excessively but at the same time, also feels sort of hard if you push on it. The average American has about 30 billion fat cells: each of them is filled with greasy substances called lipids. When you pump doughnuts, potato chips and candy bars into your system, those fat cells can expand-up to 1,000 times their original size. But a fat cell can get only so big; once it reaches its physical limit, it starts to behave like a long-running sitcom. It creates spinoffs, leaving you with two or more fat cells for the price of one. Only problem: Fat cells have a no-return policy. Once you have a fat cell, you're stuck with it- they never go away. So as you grow fatter and double the number of fat cells in your body, you also double the difficulty you'll have losing the lipids inside them.

Many of us tend to store fat in our bellies, and that's where the health dangers of excess weight begin. Abdominal fat doesn't just sit there and do nothing; it's active. It functions like a separate organ, releasing substances that can be harmful to your body. For instance, it releases free fatty acids that impair your ability to break down the hormone insulin (too much insulin in your system can lead to diabetes).

Fat also secretes substances that increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as the stress hormone cortisol (high levels of cortisol are also associated with diabetes and obesity as well as with high blood pressure). Abdominal fat bears the blame for many health problems because it resides within striking distance of your heart, liver and other organs - pressing on them, feeding them poisons, and messing with their daily function.

Now we all know the obvious: proper diet; adequate exercise; plenty of water; sufficient sleep. In fact so far, physical activity and weight loss appear to be the key. Several new studies indicate that regular exercise, such as brisk walking for 30 to 45 minutes a day, can significantly decrease such fat.

At greatest risk of developing health problems from too much hidden belly fat are men whose waists are wider than 40 inches and women whose waists are wider than 35 inches.

Tummy fat is the known enemy of the fit-looking body. As most of us get past age 20 or 25, belly fat becomes harder and harder to fend off. Even when we work on each part of our bodies at the gym or through dieting, it can seem asif the tummy fat battle is the hardest one to win.

And, fat around the midsection not only looks bulgy and unsightly, it can also be potentially bad for your health. Men and women with significant amounts of belly fat have been shown to have a better chance of developing heart disease.

People who gain belly fat are at greater risk of serious health problems, even death, than are people who accumulate fat in other areas — and men are more likely than women to gain weight around the waist. Regardless of your overall weight, having a large amount of belly fat increases your risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Some types of cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • High triglycerides
  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Sleep apnea  

So, what to do?

It is vital to drink lots of water throughout the day, as it accelerates the fat-burning process. Water also aids the functioning of the liver, and our liver actually has the ability to burn reserved fat and convert it into energy.

When it comes to food, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so start off your day with a good and healthy breakfast. As mentioned, the frequency of eating is vital, just as crucial is what you eat. There are in fact various foods which aid the loss of fat around your stomach, such as; fish, vegetables, dark chocolate and fruit. However, there are also foods that do the opposite and diminish your ability to lose belly fat, these include foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar, thus you should try and avoid such foods as much as possible.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!


The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis is a health advocacy communications specialist. He is the author of “Which Doctor?,” and is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health-related topics.

His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, was released in January. For more good health information, visit: