Harvard Heart Letter

Special section: Cardiovascular connections: Body fat: The good, the bad, the…

Special section: Cardiovascular connections

Body fat: The good, the bad, the...

Every body needs fat. It cushions and protects the internal organs, provides insulation, serves as the main storage depot for energy, acts as a warehouse for vitamins A, D, E, and K, and helps generate sex hormones. But many Americans have too much of a good thing. Fat that accumulates around the midsection — variously known as a spare tire, love handles, beer belly, and middle-aged spread — is more worrisome than fat that gathers around the hips or in the buttocks.

When abdominal fat cells release stored fat, it is picked up by the network of veins that direct blood to the liver, pancreas, and other organs. A steady flood of fat can interfere with their function, leading to problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Abdominal fat cells also churn out a stream of compounds that can promote inflammation, blood clotting, diabetes, heart disease, and liver and kidney trouble.

Sad to say, there are no easy ways to trim belly fat. Sit-ups, exercise gadgets, herbal supplements, liposuction, and tummy tucks don't work. The only way to reduce harmful abdominal fat is with a comprehensive weight-loss plan that includes eating less and exercising more. Fortunately, belly fat is the first kind to go when you lose weight because it is so metabolically active.

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