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Watch your belly fat, it may lead to heart disease and cancer

A thin person with a large waistline may have a low BMI but that doesn't necessarily mean she/he is healthy.

Written by Medha Deshmukh Bhaskaran | Updated: February 7, 2015 12:46:19 pm
obesity Big-box retailers like Walmart along with full-service and fast-food restaurants are key contributors to the obesity epidemic in the US.

VAT is troublesome. No, I am not talking about ‘Value Added Tax’ but about the Visceral Adipose Tissue, also called the abdominal fat or central obesity. In colloquial language we simply call it ‘belly fat’. And then, there is SCAT. It is the subcutaneous fat that lies beneath our skin, the type we can pinch.

It is a common sight in India and elsewhere in the world to see men, women and children going about with bulging middles; some call it a sign of prosperity and some call it pot-bellies.

BMI or Body Mass Index is usually used to assess whether we are on the right side of the weight or not. But BMI does not differentiate between muscle weight and fat weight. A body-builder may have a high BMI but that’s because of his/her high muscle weight and the person is unlikely to harbouring excessive fat.

A thin person with a large waistline (pot-belly) may have a low BMI but that doesn’t necessarily mean she/he is healthy. VAT is the unhealthiest fat that grows in the abdomen, pushes against the important organs and secretes harmful chemicals disrupting the hormonal balance, leading to insulin resistance as well as inflammation directly linked with arthritis, heart disease and cancer.

Inflammation of a tissue is basically our body’s defence mechanism to remove irritants, damaged cells, or harmful bacteria from the site. It also activates and mobilises protective blood cells that fight infection. Yet, low-grade, unnecessary and chronic inflammation caused by chemicals from VAT is like a ‘rebel without a cause’ leading to serious diseases.

The other day, one of the popular fashion designers of India was talking about clothes for fat women with large waistlines, saying, ‘I do not call the clothes extra large, I call them ‘voluptuous and extra voluptuous’ to make the women feel happy.’

Unfortunately, the beautiful perception can be the beginning of a nightmare.

Whatever one says, large waistline means that the woman’s abdomen is choked with VAT. The blood that circulates through VAT is rich in dangerous chemicals that cause inflammation as well as support tumour growth. The blood then drains into the portal vein to reach the liver. One of the chemicals from the VAT disrupts liver function leading to higher levels of bad cholesterol, increased risk of fatty liver disease, hepatitis B and even cancer. This is even riskier for older women when their ovaries have stopped producing oestrogen. Their fat tissue, especially the VAT becomes the main source of this hormone that can fuel the growth of breast tumours. Both men and women with excessive belly fat also have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

There is a simple test for both women and men; a tape measure is the best tool for assessing how much visceral fat we have harvested. Measure the waist just above the hipbone without sucking in the stomach. For women, a waist measurement (WM) of 35 inches means excessive VAT, and for most men, WM greater than 40 inches is dangerous.

SCAT or VAT, being overweight is not good for health. The bad news is that excessive consumption of alcohol, uncontrolled smoking, and mental stress can cause fat migrations from other areas towards abdomen. Our SCAT can turn into a vicious VAT; it is like building a chemical factory inside our bodies that is sure to pollute the entire system. The good news is VAT can be tackled with exercise and meditation as well as keeping life’s vices under control.

We must frequently ask ourselves, what’s my WM? It may force us to measure our waist, and prevent it from turning toxic.

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