Dropping Pounds May Mean Dropping Heart Risks

Cardiac arrest rates were higher among people with excess belly fat

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Extra padding around the tummy may seem harmless, but it could pose some long-term health risks. Luckily, taking measures to reduce belly fat could reduce these risks.

The authors of a new study found that people with larger waists were more likely to experience a sudden loss of heart function than those who didn't carry excess weight around their middles.

"The fat that accumulates in the belly is actually a functioning organ," said Sarah Samaan, MD, FACC, a cardiologist at Baylor Heart Hospital. "When there is excessive fat in this area, it can increase inflammation, raise cholesterol, and contribute to high blood pressure."

Fat in the midriff area may be more dangerous than fat elsewhere because it causes inflammation around organs, said lead study author Selcuk Adabag, MD, of the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN, and colleagues.

These researchers suggested that treating obesity — and especially "central obesity," in which fat collects around the lower torso — could reduce this risk of heart problems.

"The good news is that obesity and abdominal adiposity are potentially modifiable risk factors, and weight loss is achievable with lifestyle modification and [medications]," wrote Kyndaron Reinier, MD, PhD, and Sumeet S. Chugh, MD, of Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, the authors of an editorial that was published with this study.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops pumping blood to the body. It is not always fatal, especially when the person receives CPR.

For this study, Dr. Adabag and team used data on almost 15,000 adults. These patients were 45 to 64 years old.

These researchers assessed the patients' heart disease risks, including whether they were obese. They also looked at how large their waists and hips were.

In 12 years that the patients were studied, 253 experienced cardiac arrest. Those who died had a 5 percent higher waist-to-hip ratio — a measure of central obesity — than those who did not experience cardiac arrest.

The patients who were the largest around their middles were twice as likely to experience cardiac arrest than those with waists and hips in the normal range, according to the authors.

The authors concluded that obesity may lead to cardiac arrest indirectly, through higher blood pressure and other risk factors.

"The most important thing is to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight," Dr. Samaan said. "Avoid processed foods and trans fats, which seem to increase this type of fat accumulation. Exercise, not smoking, and choosing a Mediterranean diet will also help you lose the belly fat and keep it off."

The study and editorial were published Dec. 10 in The BMJ.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) funded the research. One author declared financial ties to the NHLBI and the American Heart Association.

Review Date: 
December 10, 2014
Last Updated:
December 11, 2014