Abdominal Fat in Men and Women
Abdominal fat or middle-age spread now is of greater concern than previous decades.
Depending on where the fat is sitting can make fat difficult to move. It affects both men and women.
However, as women age, body weight tends to increase and distribution causes shape change
Especially during menopause, women find extra pounds and shape change occurring around the abdomen. The ratio of fat to lean tissue shifts and fat storage begins favouring the mid-line. Even women who don’t actually gain weight may still gain inches at the waist.
In days gone by, women might have accepted these changes as an inevitable fact of postmenopausal life. But we’ve now been put on serious notice that as our waistlines grow, so do our health risks such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it’s a key player in a variety of health problems — much more so than subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grasp with your hand.
Visceral fat, lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity, where it spreads out the spaces between our abdominal organs.
Where’s the abdominal fat stored?
The pear-shaped body’s fat is accumulated in the lower abdomen is superficial or subcutaneous. The apple-shaped body stores the abdominal fat deep or visceral.
Scientists have identified a number of genes that help determine how many fat cells an individual develops and where these cells are stored. Hormones are also involved.
At menopause, estrogen production decreases and the ratio of androgen (male hormones present in small amounts in women) to estrogen increases — a shift that’s been linked in some studies to increased abdominal fat after menopause. Some researchers suspect that the drop in estrogen levels at menopause is also linked to increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat.
As the evidence against abdominal fat mounts, researchers and clinicians are trying to measure it, correlate it with health risks, and monitor changes that occur with age and overall weight gain or loss. The most accurate measurement techniques, magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography, are expensive and not available for routine use. However, research using X-rays has shown that waist circumference reflects abdominal fat.
These results are replacing the waist-to-hip ratio (waist size divided by hip size) as an indicator of fat distribution; even though this is easier to measure and almost as accurate. There’s also evidence that waist circumference is a better predictor of health problems than body mass index (BMI), which indicates only total body fat.
The good news is that visceral fat reduces fairly easily to exercise and diet; in turn, benefiting reductions in lower blood pressure to more favourable cholesterol levels.
Subcutaneous fat located at the waist — the pinch-able stuff — can be frustratingly difficult to budge, in normal-weight people, it’s generally not considered as much of a health threat as visceral fat is, however for many the visual effect is unappealing.
Reducing Abdominal fat
ZeroFat programmes are the perfect partner to reduce Subcutaneous fat combined with sensible eating plans and easy to follow, exercise regimes to reduce Visceral fat at Aesthetica.
Some studies have found that liposuction removal of subcutaneous fat (up to 23 pounds of it) in 15 obese women had no effect after three months on their measures of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, or response to insulin. Weight loss through diet and exercise, on the other hand, triggers many changes that have positive health effects.
What’s wrong with abdominal fat?
Body fat, or adipose tissue, was once regarded as little more than a storage depot for fat blobs waiting passively to be used for energy. But research suggests that fat cells — particularly abdominal fat cells — are biologically active. It’s more accurate to think of fat as an endocrine organ or gland, producing hormones and other substances that can profoundly affect our health. One such hormone is leptin, which is normally released after a meal and dampens appetite. Fat cells also produce the hormone adiponectin, which is thought to influence the response of cells to insulin. Although scientists are still deciphering the roles of individual hormones, it’s becoming clear that excess body fat, especially abdominal fat, disrupts the normal balance and functioning of these hormones.
Scientists are also learning that visceral fat pumps out immune system chemicals called cytokines — for example, tumour necrosis factor and interleukin-6 — that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by promoting insulin resistance and low-level chronic inflammation. These and other biochemicals, some not yet identified, are thought to have deleterious effects on cells’ sensitivity to insulin, blood pressure, and blood clotting.
One reason excess visceral fat is so harmful could be its location near the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver. Substances released by visceral fat, including free fatty acids, enter the portal vein and travel to the liver, where they can influence the production of blood lipids causing potential cholesterol concerns.
Insulin resistance means that your body’s muscle and liver cells don’t respond adequately to normal levels of insulin, the pancreatic hormone that carries glucose into the body’s cells. Glucose levels in the blood rise, heightening the risk for diabetes.
Excess fat at the waist has been linked to several other disorders as well. A European study of nearly 500,000 women and men found that, for women, a waist-to-hip ratio above 0.85 was associated with a 52% increase in colorectal cancer risk. A long-running community study on atherosclerosis conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University found that even among normal-weight people, those with higher waist-to-hip ratios had just as much difficulty as those with higher BMI in carrying out various activities of daily living, such as getting in and out of bed and performing household chores.
A larger waist measurement also predicts the development of high blood pressure, regardless of total body fat, according to a 10-year study of Chinese adults published in the August 2006 American Journal of Hypertension. Finally, a study presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience found that older people with bigger bellies had worse memory and less verbal fluency, even after taking diabetes into account.
Now for the good news from Aesthetica
So what can we do about tubby tummies? A lot, it turns out. The starting point for bringing weight under control, in general, and combating abdominal fat, in particular, is regular moderate-intensity physical activity — at least 30 minutes per day (and perhaps up to 60 minutes per day) to control weight. In a study comparing sedentary adults with those exercising at different intensities, researchers at Duke University Medical Centre found that the non-exercisers experienced a nearly 9% gain in visceral fat after six months. Subjects who exercised the equivalent of walking or jogging 12 miles per week put on no visceral fat and those who exercised the equivalent of jogging 20 miles per week lost both visceral and subcutaneous fat.
Strength training (exercising with weights) may also help fight abdominal fat. A University of Pennsylvania study followed overweight or obese women, ages 24–44, for two years. Compared to participants who received only advice about exercise, those given an hour of weight training twice a week reduced their proportion of body fat by nearly 4% — and were more successful in keeping off visceral fat.
Spot exercising, such as doing sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles, but it won’t get at visceral fat.
Diet is also important.
Portion control is very important. Eat a lot of complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and lean protein. Reduce simple carbohydrates such as white bread, refined-grain pasta, and sugary drinks. Polyunsaturated fats are preferable to saturated fats and trans fats.
It is not a good idea to dramatically reduce calories. This may force the body into starvation mode. It causes your metabolism to slow down and ironically causes fat to be stored later on.
Scientists hope to develop drug treatments that target abdominal fat. For example, studies of the weight-loss medication sibutramine (Meridia), which was approved in 1997, have shown that the drug’s greatest effects are on visceral fat. Rimonabant (Acomplia) — not yet FDA-approved — is the first of a new class of drugs that block a receptor in the brain that increases appetite. Acomplia has been shown to modestly reduce the accumulation of fat at the waist.
Because levels of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone, better known as DHEA, decline with age, many people believe that DHEA supplementation can reverse age-related changes, including increased abdominal fat. DHEA is converted in the body to testosterone and estrogen and regulates various functions. Some studies have linked DHEA to longevity in animals and people, and others have linked it to modest health benefits. But the results of a two-year randomized trial published in Oct. 19, 2006, New England Journal of Medicine showed that DHEA had no effect on aging markers, including body-composition measurements, in women and men ages 60 and over.
ZeroFat at Aesthetica, stress that lifestyle change, especially exercise, is the very best way to fight visceral fat, with subcutaneous fat reduction readily treatable with device-based fat reduction programmes at ZeroFat.
Want to know more…
For more information or to schedule a ZeroFat targeted fat reduction consultation email us or call 03 9824 6134.
References, Harvard Medical School, Health Publications.