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Heart Disease Health Center

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Your Waistline and Heart Disease: What's the Link?

By Janie McQueen
WebMD Feature

Lose weight. You hear this advice all the time. But did you know that where your body stores those extra pounds matters for your heart health, too?

“A thicker waistline increases heart attack risk,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the New York University Langone Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health.

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Stomach fat is linked to high blood sugar, increased blood pressure, and raised levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood. “All of these are major risk factors for heart disease,” Goldberg says.

So what makes an expanding waistline a problem for your heart?

It’s About Location

Belly fat, also called visceral fat, is closer to internal organs, says Sonya Angelone, a cardiovascular nutrition expert in San Francisco. 

This type of fat can be related to hormones, like those that kick in at menopause. That's when many women start seeing their tummies thicken.

Tension Plays a Role, Too

Your body also makes a "stress hormone" called cortisol, “which increases belly fat,” Angelone says. It narrows blood vessels and raises your BP to boost blood flow. Your body needs this in times of high stress. But too much cortisol can lead to blood vessel damage and plaque buildup, so it’s hard on your heart.

It can also lead to weight gain. The process draws fat from storage and sends it to your midsection. This has an inflammatory effect that can lead to heart problems, too.

It's a good idea to keep your stress levels down. Stay calm the best way you know how, or try out calming techniques like yoga and meditation.

Make Over Your Diet

These ticker-friendly tips can also help you watch your weight:

Look out for sneaky sugar. Did you know there's some in booze, for instance? “Alcohol is sugar,” Goldberg says. Same goes for sodas and sports drinks.

Swap fruits. Go for strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries instead of high-sugar bananas and grapes. They can quell your cravings just as well.

Watch the whites. Avoid bread and white-flour foods, like white rice. Brown rice and multigrain versions are better for you, but eat them in moderation, Goldberg says.

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