Visceral Fat – The True Cause of Heart Disease.

Did you know that if you’re in a healthy weight range, you are statistically in the minority of all adults in the United States?

Essentially, being “average” in the U.S. means being overweight, if not obese. Disconcerting, isn’t it?

A recent report from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) found that nearly 40% of adults in the U.S. are obese, about 65% of whom are women.1 Even more worrisome is that the obesity rate goes among U.S. adults increases roughly 3-4% annually.

At this pace, more than half of the U.S. adult population is going to be obese in the next 3-4 years (and children are becoming obese at an even greater rate). It seems almost unfathomable that we on the cusp of being a society where people who are obese constitutes the majority of the population.

To make matters worse, those statistics are only indicative of obese adults and don’t take into account adults who are overweight. In fact, upwards of 70% of the adult population is overweight (which includes those who are obese).2

As you can see, being slim is somewhat of an improbability in this day and age.

But who cares, right? Being fat is the norm now so that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Surely, this is the type of thinking and rationale that has brought us to this point.

It may sound histrionic, but being overweight/obese and carrying excessive fat in the belly region is, without question, going to shorten your lifepsan and greatly increase the risk of both type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD), the latter of which is the leading cause of death in the U.S.3

In other words, being fat kills us and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

This is not scare tactics, nor is it an opinion on the matter; this is what we know from an abundance of data and overwhelming evidence.

Even though this all may sound like doom and gloom, being fat doesn’t have to be permanent (and it sure as hell doesn’t have be the reason your life is cut short).

You don’t need any “miracle supplements” or drugs to lose weight and be healthier. What you do need is a proper diet and diligent exercise regimen.

On that note, let’s dig into the physiology of obesity and its co-morbidities so you can gain a better understanding of why these diseases are so deleterious to human health and longevity. We will also look at the research showing that low-carb, high-fat diets are an effective measure for promoting weight loss and combating a myriad of diseases.

Having a Beer Belly is More Harmful Than You May Think

The term “beer belly” is colloquial lingo for the medical condition known as “central adiposity,” which is the result of having excessive visceral fat (intra-abdominal) tissue. In contrast to subcutaneous fat which lies right under the skin, visceral fat tissue lies deep in the abdominal region and surrounds vital organs.

When someone has excessive amounts of visceral fat, the belly region tends to protrude (much like the look of a female who is carrying a child). Lo and behold, central adiposity is strongly associated with the development of type-2 diabetes and heart disease.4

As such, a defining characteristic of obesity is central adiposity. In other words, obesity, central adiposity, and type-2 diabetes are all likely to cause one another. They are basically a “package deal”; if you are obese and/or have a beer belly, then your risk of becoming a type-2 diabetic increases drastically, and vice versa.

It’s important to note that even those who are not obese – according to body mass index (BMI) standards – can still exhibit central adiposity. There is distinct risk tied to excessive abdominal/belly fat, regardless of what you weigh.

Health Risks of Belly Fat (Central Adiposity)

In addition to increasing the risk of type-2 diabetes and CVD, having excessive visceral fat is strongly correlated with elevated blood triglycerides (i.e. hypertriglyceridemia), which is a major risk factor for both heart disease and stroke.5

Moreover, organ inflammation (especially in the pancreas and liver) and decreased levels of high-density lipoproteins (“healthy” cholesterol) with concomitant increases in very-low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol) have also been linked to obesity and excess visceral fat.6

The other health detriments associated with central adiposity are just as daunting, including:7,8

  • Low growth hormone production (leading low levels of IGF-1)
  • Leptin resistance
  • Low testosterone/hypogonadism (specifically in males)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Peripheral neuropathy and edema
  • Depression and anxiety disorders
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Gut dysbiosis

But the risks don’t stop there…

Obesity and central adiposity also greatly increase the risk of cancer, metabolic syndrome, and all-cause mortality.9,10

Furthermore, the anatomical stress large amounts of body fat (especially visceral fat) place on the spine and internal organs doesn’t bode well for individuals looking to maintain decent posture (among other things).

Most people with a beer belly gradually develop a lordotic curvature in the spinal cord and compensate by dipping their shoulders forward; this is why many of these individuals complain of back issues as time goes on. (Not to mention all the extra biomechanical stress placed on the knees and ankles.)

It’s discouraging that most people are well aware of the rising obesity rates and the health implications of having a “beer gut,” yet we choose to overlook it all and just hope that things will correct themselves over time. Being hopeful is great and all, but it won’t help anyone lose weight and live a healthier life.

What should keep us all hopeful is that obesity, type-2 diabetes, and CVD are all things that can be avoided by making smarter food choices and keeping physically active.

There’s plenty of research that shows healthier eating habits, specifically a low-carb, high-fat diet, undoubtedly help improve cardiovascular function, reduce body fat, and enhance insulin sensitivity.

Why Obesity & Type-2 Diabetes Are on the Rise

The epidemic of obesity and type-2 diabetes is one of the greatest plights mankind has ever faced. In addition to the climbing obesity rates, type-2 diabetes affects nearly half a billion people worldwide (which is the result of a whopping tenfold incidence increase over the last three decades).11

What makes this an uphill battle is that obesity and type-2 diabetes are vicious cycles driven by physiological and sociological factors.

As adults, we set the example for children and adolescents; when parents consume copious amounts of sugar-laden, processed foods, then their kids are likely to follow suit.

Thus, bad parental eating habits quickly grow on kids and it becomes a vicious cycle within the family, where being raised on poor dietary and lifestyle choices lead to obese children who grow old and give rise to the same unhealthy habits in their offspring.

To make matters worse, there is some evidence that adults who are obese with type-2 diabetes genetically predispose their progeny to diabetes.12

Why Being Fat Makes You Fatter

Once you’re obese, your body has a propensity to keep gaining body fat (this is especially true if you eat a lot of sugar and carbohydrates). As you continue to eat/drink sugary foods, your body produces more and more insulin to compensate for all the glucose in your bloodstream.

Eventually, your cells become resistant to the effects of insulin and your blood sugar levels remain chronically elevated.

When you’re insulin resistant, cells can’t effectively utilize the glucose in your bloodstream for energy. This is why pre-diabetics generally have high insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) and high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia), both of which are strongly correlated with abdominal fat gain.13

Keep this up for awhile longer and your pancreas will start to produce less insulin. Soon enough, you’ll be obese and diabetic. If you don’t stop the habits that got you in this position, it will only get worse…

Obesity is a physiological vicious cycle because your body gets “comfortable” with being fat and insulin resistant. You essentially create new homeostasis.

In turn, your appetite and calorie intake remain high, your basal metabolic rate remains low (relative to your body weight), your energy and vitality are in the gutter, and your girth around the waist continues to expand.

You’re probably left wondering how you can overcome this vicious cycle and be healthier?

The answer lies ahead…

Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight?

Naturally, you might scoff at the notion that eating more fat can help you lose body fat, reverse type-2 diabetes, and improve heart health. That’s totally understandable, since most people think eating fat makes us fat. However, the human body is an intricate machine and things aren’t always as intuitive as they may seem, especially when it comes to metabolism and physiology. Read on to learn the many ways in which eating more fat (and reducing carbohydrate intake) can help you get slim and live longer.

Cutting Carbs and Eating More Fat Improves Cardiovascular Parameters

It seems almost intuitive that if you eat more fat, then your blood triglycerides would increase, right? This leads many people to believing they should reduce their fat intake and increase their carbohydrate intake.

But that’s not really how the body works when it comes to regulating blood lipids. In fact, research shows that high-carb, low-fat diets are a major culprit of hypertriglyceridemia and hypertension.14

When you consume a diet that is high in carbohydrates, the body will preferentially utilize glucose (sugar) over fat for energy, resulting in a greater accumulation of triglycerides in the blood, even if you aren’t eating a lot of dietary fat.

What’s more, studies that have compared isocaloric low-carb, high-fat diets vs. high-carb, low-fat diets consistently find that those on the low-carb, high-fat diets have healthier profiles of HDL and LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as a better rate of weight loss.15,16

In short: Calorie count notwithstanding, you’re better off eating a stick of butter than a bag of Skittles if those are your only two options. (Don’t misconstrue this to mean that you should eat a stick of butter as part of your low-carb, high-fat diet.)

Low-Carb, High-Fat Diets Help Restore Healthy Gut Microbiome Balance

Recent research found that slim people have a different array of microbes in their gut compared  to overweight/obese people.17 The bacteria that exist in our gastrointestinal tract are collectively referred to as gut microbiota (or the gut microbiome), and they appear to play a bigger role in body weight management than previously thought.

Essentially, what happens as we gain weight is our gut microbiome starts to lose healthy bacteria that help keep us healthy and slim.

But how do we restore healthy gut microbiome balance for weight loss?

While many people will assume that probiotic supplements are the best option, the reality is that a low-carb, high-fat diet rich in prebiotics is a more sustainable and prudent long-term option for gut health.

A prebiotic is any food/nutrient that helps feed the “friendly” microbes in your gut, thereby helping them grow and proliferate. Consequently, including prebiotics in your diet is a natural means of balancing the gut microbiome since the friendly microbes will continue to grow and multiply and the “bad” microbes will get crowded out, so to speak.

Dietary fiber and digestion-resistant starch, especially inulin (chicory root) and green banana, are well-known to feed healthy gut microbes and aid in weight loss.18

Furthermore, the not-so-friendly microbes in the gut tend to feed on sugar. As such, reducing your sugar/carb intake will help starve these microbes so that they no longer disturb your gut microbiome.

Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet for Reducing Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels

Clinical evidence thus far suggests that a low-carb, high-fat diet may be the best natural treatment for type-2 diabetes.19 Many people aren’t aware that low-carb diets were historically the first line of treatment for obesity, as well as both type-1 and type-2 diabetes.20

But once insulin was discovered, the way doctors treated diabetes changed drastically.

In conventional medical settings, type-2 diabetes is treated by putting patients on a high-carb diet and a drug that re-sensitizes cells to the effects of insulin (such as Metformin). In some cases, type-2 diabetics are advised to consume a high-carb diet along with a prescription for exogenous insulin. This is quite bewildering, to say the least.

Sure enough, there is a growing body evidence suggesting that physicians had the right idea for combating type-2 diabetes and obesity from the get-go…

A recent meta-analysis of 11 clinical studies proposes that a low-carb diet is an effective approach for reducing both fasting blood sugar and insulin levels without the need for medication or insulin.21

Given these data, it only makes sense that the medical guidelines for treating type-2 diabetes will (hopefully) shift back towards reducing carb intake and using less medication.

Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet for Controlling Appetite

There is insurmountable evidence showing that energy balance is the most important factor for weight loss.22 In other words, you won’t lose weight if you overeat. Thus, controlling your food cravings and appetite is key to success no matter what type of weight-loss diet you follow.

For people who are obese and/or diabetic, low-carb, high-fat diets (that also contain ample amounts of protein) are the surest way to increase satiety and reduce food intake throughout the day.23

Carbohydrates (especially simple sugars) tend to be much less satiating per gram than proteins and fats. In fact, eating large amounts of sugar/carbs can potentiate cravings even further since high blood sugar levels are well-known to increase hunger signals in the brain.24

Therefore, cutting down on your carb intake and emphasizing high-fat and protein-rich foods is a great way to help control your blood glucose levels and avoid the hunger-inducing symptoms of hyperglycemia. In turn, you’ll have an easier time reducing your overall calorie intake and losing weight.

Starting a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet

Both type-2 diabetes and obesity are classified as diseases and should be overseen by a licensed medical professional.

If this article has galvanized you into starting a low-carb, high-fat diet, give our Diet Beginner’s Guide a read as it will get you up to speed on what foods to eat and what to expect as your body adapts to using more fat for energy instead of sugar.

References

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