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Is Belly Fat Harmful?

Is Belly Fat Harmful?

Belly fat is incredibly frustrating and can be challenging to lose. 

But aside from being a nuisance, research has shown that belly fat is different than fat stored elsewhere. In fact, carrying too much belly fat can raise your risk of harmful medical conditions such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and more.

This article explains why belly fat is harmful and provides you with tips on how to lose it.

Is belly fat harmful?

Belly fat isn’t just a nuisance; it’s seriously bad for your health. 

Belly fat is medically called visceral fat and sits deep inside an area of your belly called the abdominal cavity. Inside this space, belly fat wraps tightly around your organs. Unlike subcutaneous fat, the jiggly fat underneath your skin, belly fat is hard, and you can’t pinch it.

Research has shown that having too much belly fat may raise your risk of medical conditions like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancers (123).

A big reason why belly fat is so harmful is that belly fat cells are active and make hormones and chemicals. Some of these chemicals are called cytokines, which tell the body to increase inflammation. Over time, inflammation can raise the risk of the health problems mentioned above (45).

Here’s an example of how inflammation can increase the risk of heart disease. 

During chronic inflammation, the body makes chemicals and substances that can form plaque (a fatty, waxy substance made from cholesterol) inside the arteries. Over time, the plaque can grow bigger and rupture, stopping blood flow through the arteries (67).

If the ruptured plaque happens to block a coronary artery (blood vessels of the heart), it can stop blood and oxygen from reaching the heart. This can result in a heart attack (7).

Summary Belly fat is harmful because it is active and produces chemicals that signal inflammation. Carrying too much belly fat is linked to health conditions like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.

Tips to help you lose belly fat

Although belly fat is harmful, it’s not impossible to lose.

Here are a few simple tips to help you lose belly fat and take back your health: 

  • Cut back on alcohol: Some studies have found that drinking too much alcohol (more than two glasses per day) is linked to carrying more belly fat (89).
  • Avoid trans fats: trans fats are a man-made artificial fat that is linked to belly fat. Trans fats have a long shelf-life and are added to processed foods like fried foods, frozen pizza, potato chips, and various baked goods (1011). 
  • Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night: A variety of studies have shown that a lack of sleep can increase your risk of storing fat as belly fat (121314).
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress: Stress can tell your body to make a hormone called cortisol, which has been linked to storing fat as belly fat (1516).
  • Try intermittent fasting: An extensive review of 19 studies found intermittent fasting helped reduce belly fat by 4–7% over 6–24 weeks (17).
Summary If you’re looking to lose belly fat, try some of the tips listed above, like cutting back on alcohol, avoiding trans fats, getting plenty of sleep, finding healthy ways to manage stress, or try a diet strategy like intermittent fasting.

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Blog written by
Ryan Raman MHSC, RD
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