How Belly Fat Could be Hurting Your Heart

How Belly Fat Could be Hurting Your Heart

Heart Health Month is our annual reminder in the United States to pay close attention to the care of our precious heart.  Most of us are familiar with the saying “you’re only as healthy as your heart.” But what you may not know is that your heart health could be determined by something as seemingly unrelated as your waistline, aka, belly.

Recent studies have shown a correlation between belly fat and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). So if you’re carrying excess weight around your middle, it’s time to take steps to improve your heart health. There are steps you can take right now to not only prevent but reverse heart disease with a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle.

So why is it so important to be proactive when it comes to your heart health?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • About 659,000 people in the United States die from heart disease each year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths..
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
  • In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.
  • Every year, about 805,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. Of these,
    • 605,000 are a first heart attack3
    • 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack3
    • About 1 in 5 heart attacks is silent—the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it.

Scary numbers. Although heart disease may be a leading cause of death, that doesn’t mean you have to accept it as your fate too.

Most people know that getting their blood pressure and cholesterol checked is important, along with healthy eating habits and exercise.  Unfortunately, that just isn’t enough. There are hidden dangers to your heart health that go far beyond diet and exercise, and you need to be aware of them. This little discussed culprit has been proven to drastically increase your risk of heart disease.  What is it?

Belly Fat!

No matter what you call it, a beer belly, pot belly, spare tire or even a muffin top, if you have one, you’re increasing your risk of heart disease. This little discussed culprit has been proven to drastically increase your risk of heart disease.

The ironic thing is that even skinny people can have an unhealthy level of body fat that’s hidden, so the risk is harder to detect. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

The medical term for belly fat is Visceral Adiposity and it’s a killer. Visceral Adiposity is the belly fat tucked deep inside your waistline, within your abdominal cavity. This fat is stored around your vital organs such as the liver, pancreas and the intestines. Simply put, a big waistline puts you at increased risk for many health problems — diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

There are a lot of health risks associated with belly fat, but let’s look at three that should be of concern to you.


Inflammation is generated in belly fat. Adipocytes, aka fat cells, are inflammation generating machines. Chronic inflammation can damage the heart’s cells, valves and the inside lining of the arteries. This can result in the progression of plaque build-up, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat, murmurs and even congestive heart failure.

Research indicates that inflammation is at the core of what we consider age-related diseases such as diabetes, certain types of cancer, Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders and you guessed it – cardiovascular disease.

The quickest way to battle inflammation is through your diet. The typical American diet contains thirty times more pro-inflammatory nutrients than the food we consumed a century ago. The result is a population being set-up for escalated inflammatory problems.

Staying away from sugar, starches, dairy, trans-fats and processed food is a great way to start reducing your risk.

Insulin Resistance

This is a condition where the pancreas produces insulin, but the body doesn’t use it effectively because the insulin receptors on your cells have become desensitized to the signals of insulin. Therefore, when people have insulin resistance, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the cells, which leads to Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and accounts for roughly 90-95% of all diabetes diagnosis. The complications from diabetes are severe such as heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and even limb amputation.

The good news is that type 2 diabetes can easily be prevented and reversed. Diet and exercise are known to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. CDC-recognized lifestyle change program participants who lost 5-7% or more body weight cut their risks by up 58%. The benefits were most significant for people over 60 years old, with a 71% reduction in likelihood if they added 150 minutes per week into an existing regimen that included strength training and cardio exercises. That’s just 30 minutes, 5 days a week!

Hardening of the Arteries

Belly fat is linked to the worsening of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which makes heart attacks and blood clots more likely.

Hardening of the arteries occurs when fat, cholesterol and plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries. This plaque build-up not only causes heart problems, but it causes problems throughout the body.

The good news is that you can easily reduce your risk just by making a few simple changes. So, what should you do if you have belly fat?

  1. Consume glycemic balanced, low-carb meals.  This type of meal prevents a spike in blood sugar which can also prevent inflammation and fat storage. Eat lots of leafy greens, fiber, lean protein, colorful vegetables and don’t be afraid of the “good fats” like avocados, nuts and olive oil. Stay away from sugar, white flour sweets and processed foods.
  2. Avoid having too high or low blood sugar. States of low and high blood sugar release the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body store fat around the belly.
  3. Remove Inflammatory Food Triggers.

The most basic inflammatory food triggers are gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, and peanuts. Sugar and high carb foods top this list of don’ts.  

Are You At Risk?

Every “body” is different and there’s no one size fits all solution. A good rule of thumb is if your height isn’t at least double the circumference or your waist (your waist, not your hips), you’re probably at risk.

If you suffer from chronic belly fat, nip it in the bud – fast! This is a serious health threat but you CAN do something about it.  Losing belly fat and decreasing inflammation in your body is essential. Your heart will thank you for it.

Confused about where to begin and want to get to the real root cause of your belly fat and inflammation?

Ready to reclaim your vitality? Contact us today at Get Nourished and schedule a consultation to learn more about optimizing your health. My team and I are ready and committed to help you achieve your optimal health.

May you be well & thrive!


Sarah Reilly
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