Spring 2018 True Natural Health Magazine
By Roger French, Health Director, NHS
If your waistline is too generous, you may be lumping around harmful amounts of abdominal fat.
To check your waistline, stand up straight, exhale without sucking in your belly, and use a tape measure to measure your girth just above the hips.
On average, if it measures 90 cm or more for women or 102 cm or more for men, it’s likely that you are carrying around potentially dangerous amount of abdominal fat.
Fat which you don’t need to be so concerned about is subcutaneous fat, that is, fat lining just below the skin or as ‘love handles’ or padding on the thighs, buttocks or upper arms. The appearance of this fat may or may not please you, but it is otherwise harmless.
The harmful kind
In contrast, visceral fat that builds up around (and protects) abdominal organs is metabolically active and does have potentially harmful effects when in excess, including heart disease, cancer and dementia. Even without being overweight or obese, you can still have too much abdominal fat.
Visceral fat is not easily shed, such as by toning up abdominal muscles with exercises like sit-ups. It requires a full program of balanced, natural eating plus exercise to be sure to lose this kind of fat.
Men generally carry more visceral fat than do women, but after women reach menopause, it is usually the other way around; most women seem unable to escape developing a stout mid-life waistline.
It is risky
The reason that visceral fat is so risky is due to the fact that it functions like a hormone gland and secretes hormones and a number of other substances that can cause diseases of the kind prominent in older adults. One of these substances is a protein which causes insulin resistance and has been found to increase the risk of heart attack.
A 20-year study conducted in Britain found a direct link between an increased waistline and coronary heart disease. Known as ‘The Million Women Study’, it showed that the chances of developing heart disease were doubled among the women with the largest waists. For each additional five centimetres of waistline, the risk increased by 10 percent.
Cancer is also a concern with belly fat. According to a Korean study, the incidence of colorectal cancer was almost double in post-menopausal women with abundant visceral fat.
Similarly with breast cancer. An Indian study of over 3,000 pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women found that if their waists were almost as big as their hips, their risk of breast cancer was increased by three to four times compared to the risk for women of normal weight.
Given that 56 percent of Australian women (and two-thirds of American women) are overweight or obese, losing weight may well be the single biggest factor for reducing the high incidence of breast cancer in Australia.
Another great risk associated with excessive abdominal fat is that of developing dementia decades later, which can impose a huge burden on individuals, families and the health-care system. In Northern California, members of the Kaiser Permanente Health Maintenance Organisation were studied for an average of 36 years. The researchers found that those people with the greatest amount of visceral obesity in mid-life were almost three times more likely to develop dementia three decades later than those with the least abdominal fat.
Heart disease, cancer and dementia aren’t the only possible consequences of visceral fat – as if they aren’t enough! A study of 88,000 Californian teachers found that there is also insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, impaired lung function, migraine headaches and even asthma.
Putting together all these possible consequences, carrying around a large amount of abdominal fat can almost double a person’s chances of a premature death – even if body weight is normal. This was the finding of a study of 350,000 European men and women published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
To get rid of it …
So how can people get rid of abdominal fat and, more importantly, how can its accumulation be avoided in the first place?
There is no magic bullet, it requires persistent determination. Essentially this means avoiding or severely limiting the intake of counterproductive substances, reducing calorie intake and undertaking regular physical activity.
Perhaps the worst calorie offender is refined sugar, especially fructose in large quantities. Alcohol, other than in small doses, is well known for a ‘beer gut’ due to the fact that it tends to suppress the burning of fat for energy. Refined grain foods – white bread and other white flour products and white rice – are best avoided, in any case they have no part in a healthy diet. Deep-fried and other fatty foods also need to be boycotted.
Eating needs to be based on fresh vegetables and fruits, plant sources of protein (nuts, legumes and seeds) and small amounts of whole grains. Details of appropriate balanced eating are given in ‘Natural Health Dietary Guidelines’, which are summarised in TNH, Summer 2016/17 issue (back-copies readily available) and in the Society’s book, How a Man Lived in Three Centuries.
Adequate sleep will also make a big difference – at least seven hours or preferably eight hours a night.
This article is based on ‘The Dangers of Belly Fat’ by Jane E. Brody, health columnist with The New York Times. It was published in Australia by the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine, 5th July 2018