Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Weight Loss & Diet Plans

Font Size

Atherosclerosis: What’s Weight Got to Do With It?

Being overweight is bad for you. Most of us could stand to lose weight. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Losing weight will help you look and feel better and help keep your arteries clear.

Extra weight contributes to atherosclerosis, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. Fortunately, taking the weight off can slow down or help prevent atherosclerosis.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including obesity screening and nutrition counseling, at no cost to you. Learn more.

Health Insurance Center

The Link Between Atherosclerosis and Obesity

It's hard for scientists to nail down precisely how much being overweight causes atherosclerosis. That's because obesity often happens along with other problems that cause atherosclerosis. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are the prime examples.

Nevertheless, it's clear that extra weight itself can hurt you.

Atherosclerosis and Fat

For decades, fat bored most researchers. Excess fat was always felt to somehow contribute to disease, but not by actually doing anything.

In recent years, it's been discovered that fat actually lives a very active life: Fat makes hormones and other messenger chemicals. These messages play a big role in the "conversation" going on in our bodies.

The messages that fat sends out, though, are generally not helpful. Fat makes cytokines (messenger chemicals) that create constant, low levels of inflammation in the body.

The hormones and cytokines that fat makes contribute to atherosclerosis in several ways:

  • Resistance to insulin and poor control of glucose. This can cause diabetes or make it worse.
  • Reduced function of the endothelium, the lining of arteries. This makes them less "toned," inflamed, and more prone to atherosclerosis.
  • A greater tendency to clot. Blood clots are the ultimate cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Today, fat is seen as an active and important contributor to atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis and Abdominal Fat

Where the fat is matters, too. Abdominal fat -- the old spare tire -- may be the worst kind of extra pounds. Abdominal fat is linked to insulin resistance and too much sugar in the blood.

Get out a tape measure and measure your waist at the belly button. Having a waist larger than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men raises the risk of atherosclerosis.

Lose Weight, Lose Risk for Heart Disease

The good news is, losing the weight means losing some of your risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease. Experts agree that weight loss lowers your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, and circulation problems.

Lower, healthier weights lead to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased "good" cholesterol and decreased "bad" cholesterol
  • Lower tendency to develop diabetes
  • Healthier, more "elastic" blood vessels

Losing weight doesn't just make you feel good inside. It also makes good things happen inside your arteries.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 14, 2013

Today on WebMD

vegetables
Video
Woman trying clothes / dress
Assessment
 
Woman looking at reflection in mirror
Article
Hot cup of coffee
Quiz
 
woman shopping fresh produce
Video
butter curl on knife
Quiz
 
eating out healthy
Article
Smiling woman, red hair
Article
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
thumbnail_woman_tossing_spinach
Video
lunchbox
Article
 
What Girls Need To Know About Eating Disorders
Article
teen squeezing into jeans
fitfor Teens
 

Special Sections