Abdominal Fat and Degenerative Disease
Friday, July 18, 2008
One of my favorite health writers, Larry Trivieri, addressed the issue of abdominal fat
and degenerative disease in his last email like this, "When it
comes to protecting ourselves from degenerative diseases, we need to
take an honest look at the size of our bellies."
For years, physicians and patients alike have relied on overall
body weight and the body-mass index (a calculation of the body's fat to
lean muscle ratio) as reliable measures for determining a person's
current health. Physicians also rely on both weight and BMI readings to
help assess patients’ future health risks.
Weight and BMI measurements are also commonly used to determine
patients’ current and future risk for developing disease. That's
because both weight and BMI measurements
provide accurate indicators of how much fat is carried on the body. The greater amount of
fat, the greater the risk of developing heart disease, as well as
various other chronic health conditions, including cancer, diabetes,
macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.
According to a 2007 research study, how much fat a person carries is not as important as where
in the body that fat is primarily stored. What researchers who
conducted the study found is that the real danger zone for stored fat
is in the waist and belly. This fact has also been suggested in
macular degeneration studies that you will find in today's references.
The 2007 study, however, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, examined data from the still-ongoing Dallas Heart Study, which is evaluating the various risk factors for heart disease.
The study included more than 2,700 participants between the ages
of 30 and 65, all of whom had completed a general health survey, had
their weight and BMI measured, provided blood and urine samples, and
had their hips and waistlines measured. The participants also received
noninvasive imaging tests, including magneticresonance imaging (MRI) to
measure their levels of atherosclerosis, and electron-beam-conducted
tomography (EBCT) to measure the amount of calcium in their coronary
arteries, which many think is a better predictor of heart disease than
Five hundred eighty three of the study participants were found to
have calcium deposits in their arteries, and 976 were found to have
arterial plaque. Both calcium deposits and arterial plaque are
significant risk factors for heart disease.
The researchers then analyzed various other factors related to the participants with
calcium deposits and arterial plaque, including their age, blood pressure levels,
cholesterol levels, overall medical history, and whether or not there was a presence of
any disease conditions among them, including diabetes. Taking all
of these considerations into account, the researcher team for this
study determined that the shape of a person’s body, especially his or
her belly, is the more accurate indicator of the presence of calcium
deposits and arterial plaque.
Specifically, what the researchers found was that the if a
person’s belly is wider than his or her hips – a measurement known as
the “waist-to-hips ratio,” or WHR – there is a much greater risk of
calcium deposits and arterial plaque. Therefore, WHR suggests a greater
risk for heart attack, stroke, and other types of degenerative disease.
The relationship between WHR and heart disease risk was further
confirmed when the researchers separated the study participants into
five groups, ranging from the highest to lowest WHR measurements. This
revealed that those with the highest WHR has twice the risk of having
calcium deposits, and three times the risk of arterial plaque, compared
to those with the lowest WHR measurements. This was true even among
participants whose overall weight was within normal ranges that
previously were considered safe. So long as they had a higher than
normal WHR, they were at greater risk for heart disease. According to
James de Lemos, MD, one of the researchers who conducted the study,
“Even a small pot belly puts us at higher risk when compared to a flat
Alarming as the study’s findings are, they also provide us with a
simple way of assessing our own risk for developing heart disease that
can easily be performed at home. All we have to do is get a measuring
tape and measure the circumference around our waist and hips. If the
measurement for our waists is higher than that for our hips, we need to
take action to reduce the width of our waist and belly.
These action steps include owning or buying a measuring tape and
using it, adopting a healthier diet, controlling food portions,
increasing the amount of daily exercise and physical activity we get,
and taking a full-spectrum multiple to insure that our micronutrient
needs are met as we cut caloric intake to lose excess weight.
Ellen Troyer, MT MA
Biosyntrx Chief Research Officer