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Heart Disease Health Center

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Weight & Waistlines: Heart Disease Risk Factors

What's weight got do to with heart disease? Plenty!

Your Waistline Is a Key Predictor of Heart Disease continued...

This, say experts, is particularly true if you carry your excess weight around a chubby midsection or "spare tire."

What's the connection here? Doctors say that fat around the midsection acts differently than fat on your thighs or on your bottom.

"We used to think that all adipose [fat] tissue was neutral -- but as it turns out, it's an active organ that makes all kinds of substances that we now know can cause, or at least stimulate the atherosclerotic process," says James Underberg, MD, Director of the Bellevue Hospital Lipid Clinic, in New York City.

In studies on more than 1,300 Finnish men published in the European Heart Journal, doctors learned that an central obesity is, on its own, a potent predictor of heart disease, with risks that go far beyond obesity alone.

National criteria propose that a 40-inch waist in men and 35-inch waist in women predicted an increased risk for heart disease.

Special Risks for Women

What may be even more important -- particularly for women -- is what doctors call "visceral" fat. This is the fat that lies beneath the muscle, and is frequently wrapped around internal organs. It is often found in people with large midsections.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, doctors found that middle aged women who carried more visceral fat in their tummy region were at higher risk for metabolic syndrome -- a constellation of conditions that include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance, all leading to a higher risk of heart disease.

A Danish study published in the journal Circulation showed a woman was nearly five times more likely to die of heart disease if she had both a large waist and a high level of fat in her blood.

Losing a Little Gets You a Lot

The good news is that losing weight can make a huge difference: often it can dramatically reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease.

Even better news: Even a small weight loss can help.

"Even a minimal weight loss can make an enormous difference. Your blood pressure will drop, your lipid profile [cholesterol] will get better. It's remarkable how much good you can do for your body by just shedding a few pounds," says cardiologist Chuck McCauley, MD, director of the Marshfield Healthy Lifestyles Program in Marshfield, Wis.

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