Belly Fat Predicts Heart Disease

Liver and abdominal fat identify obese individuals at the highest risk of heart disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Not all fat is created equal, especially when it comes to men with excessive weight around the middle. Some with added belly fat may be at an increased risk of developing heart disease and other serious health problems.

About 80 percent of obese men with high levels of stomach and liver fat may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including high cholesterol.

"Stay trim around the middle to avoid health problems."

Dr. Jan Boren, study senior author and professor of molecular and clinical medicine at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said that measuring abdominal fat and liver fat can pinpoint patients at high risk for metabolic abnormalities and heart disease. She stressed that the intra-abdominal obesity and liver fat exams are needed because about 20 percent of such obese patients appear to be metabolically normal.

Obesity is often associated with cardiometabolic abnormalities such as type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, gout, hypertension and cholesterol disorders.

However, researchers found that obese men at the highest risk have increased secretion of liver lipids, more abdominal fat and impaired removal of triglycerides from the blood stream. High levels of triglycerides increase a person's risk of metabolic abnormalities, heart disease and death.

In investigating why some obese patients develop lipid disorders, Dr. Boren and and her research team found that liver fat is strongly associated with increased secretion of very low density lipoproteins that contain the largest amount of triglycerides. Exercise and weight loss reduces liver fat and the secretion of the lipoproteins.

Over the course of the study, researchers examined 14 obese men with high triglycerides, 14 obese men with normal triglycerides and 10 men who were not overweight and did not have high triglycerides.  The average age for the non-obese men was 48 years old, while for the obese men, the average age was between 52 and 55 years old.

Investigators utilized proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure liver fat., while abdominal fat was measured through MRI imaging. Obese men with elevated triglycerides had a liver fat content of 13 percent, while those with normal triglycerides had a 6.9 percent liver fat content. Men who were not obese had a 2.9 percent liver fat content.

A similar study is planned in women. The research was published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology: Journal of the American Heart Association.

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Review Date: 
July 21, 2011
Last Updated:
August 9, 2011