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Belly Fat Associated With New, Worse Heart Disease Risk Factors

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Belly fat, especially the fat stored inside the abdominal cavity, increases the risk of heart diseases, reports a recent study conducted to identify the association between belly fat and heart-related ailments.

Belly fat, commonly called a "spare tire" around the midsection, was shown to be associated with elevated cardiovascular risks in previous studies but it is now found that "hidden fat," the fat found in the abdominal cavity, poses a higher risk than the fat found under the skin.

In the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers noted that the density of stomach fat (measured by CT imaging) is as significant as the amount of fat present around the midsection of a person. Generally, the fat density or attenuation is low when the amount of belly fat is high.

"What's really interesting is that we show that an increase in the amount of stomach fat and a lower density fat is associated with worse heart disease risk factors - even after accounting for how much weight was gained," said Dr. Caroline Fox, lead researcher of the study and former senior investigator for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in a press release. "This hasn't been shown before."

For the purpose of the study, a team led by Fox reviewed CT scans of 1,106 people that participated in the Framingham Heart Study. The average age of the subjects included in the study was 45 years and 44 percent of them were women. The investigators analyzed the amount of fat accumulated in abdomen, the location of fat deposition and the density of fat.

The researchers measured both subcutaneous adipose fat, the fat present under the skin and visceral adipose fat, the fat that is accumulated inside the abdominal cavity. It was observed over six years of follow-up that on average, the patients had 45 percent increase in visceral adipose fat and 22 percent increase in subcutaneous adipose fat.

It was found that though both levels of fat had ab adverse effect on heart health, fat inside the abdominal cavity increased the risk of cardiovascular disease than the subcutaneous fat. Accumulation of fat also contributed to issues like high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and high triglycerides.

In an editorial comment, cardiologist Dr. James A. de Lemos noted that the study findings add to the growing body of scientific research that shows how identifying the type and location of fat can play a major role in providing information about cardiovascular disease risk that is not identified in BMI measurements.

Photo: Tony Alter | Flickr

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