My lab partner and I were attempting to penetrate the abdominal cavity of a large tabby sort-of-looking tomcat that reeked of formaldehyde. We fingered our way past the long, matted hair and, with scapula in hand, sliced the skin open. As we did, a yellow, thick, curdish-looking glop oozed out. The mass of blubber, or should we say adipose tissue, was so thick we thought we’d never find the organs we were looking for. We cut, sliced and scooped until our fat cat leaned down. Clearly this alley cat—with minimal roaming—had found enough food to eat.
Abdominal fat is common enough. But aside from making our waistbands too snug, carrying fat specifically in our midsection has been linked to greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, breathing problems, disability, some cancers, higher mortality rates, and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a condition defined by waist size as well as by having two or more additional health problems, such as high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, high triglycerides, or insulin resistance. Metabolic syndrome seems to lead to a downward spiral as it intensifies the risk of heart disease and leads to an early onset of type 2 diabetes.
We’ve always known that being overweight is dangerous to our health. But it’s now understood that the location of surplus fat plays a more deciding role in how and to what extent fat will affect us than was previously thought, because not all fat is alike. Fat around the middle not only “hangs out” just beneath the skin surface, but is largely visceral, deep fat that packs itself around internal organs. Apparently hip fat is not as much of a problem. A study published in the medical journal Lancet, involving 27,000 people in 52 countries, found that waist-to-hip ratio more accurately predicts who will have a heart attack than weight or even body mass index.
Why would this be the case? Because fat cells are not merely inert blobs of stored leftovers waiting to be used in time of famine. In fact, science now recognizes fat cells as endocrine factories, “extraordinarily dynamic, complex and influential entities that affect a staggering array of crucial bodily functions.” In other words, fat cells dispatch potent chemical signals to tissues throughout the body, including the brain, liver, muscles, reproductive organs and immune system, orchestrating a host of activities. Unfortunately, “It’s probably the biggest endocrine organ in the body,” said Jeffrey M. Friedman of the Rockefeller University in New York.
As fat releases powerful body chemicals it “sets off reactions in the body that lead to changes in arteries, organs, and cells that result in heart disease, diabetes, and probably some cancers. The more abdominal fat, the greater the risk of developing these conditions earlier. “It’s becoming clearer and clearer that body fat distribution is a critically important variable,” says JoAnn Manson, Chief of Preventive Medicine at Harvard University’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “And abdominal obesity is the key culprit.”
For some reason, visceral fat is the most metabolically active. It is known to influence the immune system and the formation of blood clots, determine when blood vessels constrict, and release substances that increase the body’s resistance to insulin. “It seems to me that what has emerged is a sense that abdominal obesity promotes insulin resistance, which raises insulin levels, which increases appetite, which increases triglycerides, which causes the good HDL to go down, and increases sodium absorption, then blood volume expands, and blood pressure goes up,”
Carrying fat specifically in our midsection has been linked to greater risk of many diseases.
William Kannel, a professor at Boston University Medical School and a former director of the Framingham Heart Study. It’s not difficult to see how this could lead to a wide array of problems.
Referring to fat cells, Rexford S. Ahima, an endocrinologist at the University of Pennsylvania says, “It’s obvious that it makes and secretes more hormones and proteins than probably any other (organ). It’s at the center of a very complex system. It coordinates how much we eat, how much energy we burn, how the immune system works, how we reproduce. The list goes on.”
A significant part of that list is its ability to provoke an inflammatory response. “As fat mass increases, this is associated with a systematic stress response and inflammatory response, and that exhibits itself in a variety of diseases.”
Fat has long had a negative connotation. It has been drilled into the western mind that fat is bad. Yet fat is a necessary part of human anatomy. The problem (as with old Mr. Alley Cat) is, of course, the excessive amount. Researchers at the Duke University Medical Center revealed physical inactivity as a main culprit in the increase in potentially dangerous visceral fat. High amounts of exercise were confirmed to significantly decrease such fat over a relatively short time. While “lower amounts of exercise prevented the significant accumulation of visceral fat seen in the controls, it did not lead to the improvements seen in participants with higher levels of exercise.”
Controlling visceral fat is important. Yes, it is difficult to get rid of because fat begets fat. Heredity may be against you. You may have gained so much you may feel it is a hopeless cause. You may feel judged by others and are discouraged. I would like to encourage you that, with the fullest determination, you can win the very real battle of the bulge. You can succeed.
A key ingredient in doing battle against anything we fight is hope. It is a necessary ingredient to success. Hope can be directed to or placed in many things: a new diet program, surgery, physical trainer, etc. While these can be helpful, there is a resting place for hope that is guaranteed. The Heavenly Father has promised that placing our hope in Him will not leave us ashamed or disappoint us. (See Romans 5:5). He stands behind all of His promises. As our Father He longs to teach us valuable lessons of perseverance and self-control. His Spirit is given to make these our reality. “And being fully persuaded that, what he [has] promised he [is] able also to perform” live a life of hope, knowing that you shall be more than conqueror.Written by Risë Rafferty, Health Journalist, LBM