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The Truth About Beer and Your Belly

What really causes that potbelly, and how can you get rid of it?
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WebMD Expert Column

Have years of too many beers morphed your six-pack abs into a keg? If you have a "beer belly," you are not alone. It seems beer drinkers across the globe have a tendency to grow bellies, especially as they get older, and especially if they are men.

But is it really beer that causes a "beer belly"? Not all beer drinkers have them -- some teetotalers sport large ones. So what really causes men, and some women, to develop the infamous paunch?

What Causes a Beer Belly?

It’s not necessarily beer but too many calories that can turn your trim waistline into a belly that protrudes over your pants. Any kind of calories -- whether from alcohol, sugary beverages, or oversized portions of food -- can increase belly fat. However, alcohol does seem to have a particular association with fat in the midsection.

"In general, alcohol intake is associated with bigger waists, because when you drink alcohol, the liver burns alcohol instead of fat," says Michael Jensen, MD, an endocrine expert and obesity researcher with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Beer also gets the blame because alcohol calories are so easy to overdo. A typical beer has 150 calories – and if you down several in one sitting, you can end up with serious calorie overload.

And don’t forget calories from the foods you wash down with those beers. Alcohol can increase your appetite. Further, when you're drinking beer at a bar or party, the food on hand is often fattening fare like pizza, wings, and other fried foods.

Why Does Fat Accumulate in the Belly?

When you take in more calories than you burn, the excess calories are stored as fat. Where your body stores that fat is determined in part by your age, sex, and hormones.

Boys and girls start out with similar fat storage patterns, but puberty changes that. Women have more subcutaneous fat (the kind under the skin) than men, so those extra fat calories tend to be deposited in their arms, thighs, and buttocks, as well as their bellies. Because men have less subcutaneous fat, they store more in their bellies.

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