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Why Belly Fat Hurts the Heart

Belly Fat, Also Called Visceral Fat, Boosts Inflammation and Atherosclerosis, Say Scientists Studying Mice
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 29, 2008 -- Belly fat tucked deep inside your waistline may be worse for your arteries than fat padding the rest of your body.

That's according to University of Michigan scientists studying the health risks of abdominal fat, also called visceral fat.

Here's what Miina Ohman, MD, PhD, and colleagues learned from their lab tests in mice:

  • Belly fat appears to boost inflammation.
  • Belly fat is linked to worse atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which makes heart attacks more likely.

In those tests, some mice got a transplant of visceral fat. Other mice got a transplant of subcutaneous fat (which sits directly under the skin, not deep in the belly) or no fat transplant.

The bottom line: Visceral fat brought the most inflammation and the worst atherosclerosis.

After visceral fat transplantation, mice developed less severe atherosclerosis if their chow was laced with the diabetes drug Actos for 10 weeks. But Actos didn't affect atherosclerosis in other mice, and the researchers aren't ready to recommend any drugs for visceral fat.

Don't disregard the study, published online in Circulation, just because the tests were done in mice. Other studies have linked belly fat to health risks in people.

Belly fat does budge, but it takes work. Researchers have found that exercise is a must to get rid of belly fat. If you're not exercising already, check with your doctor before you start a new fitness plan.

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