Abdominal fat and how it affects your health, from the Harvard Men's Health Watch

"How much should I weigh?" It's a common question, and an important one. Surprisingly, though, it's actually the wrong question. For health, the issue is not just how much you weigh, but how much of your fat is located in your abdomen, reports the January 2009 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

Abdominal fat comes in two different forms. Some of it is located in the fatty tissue just beneath the skin. This subcutaneous fat behaves like the fat elsewhere in the body; it's no friend to health, but it's no special threat either. Fat inside the abdomen is another story. This visceral fat, which is located around the internal organs, can damage your health.

Scientists originally thought visceral fat was dangerous because it was linked to elevated stress hormones, which raise blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cardiac risk. A newer explanation relies on the concept of lipotoxicity. Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat cells release their metabolic products directly into the blood, so free fatty acids from visceral fat accumulate in the liver and other organs. This impairs the body's regulation of insulin, blood sugar, and cholesterol and leads to heart problems. A third hypothesis starts with the complex role of fat cells. In addition to hoarding excess energy, fat cells produce a large number of proteins that contribute to metabolic abnormalities, inflammation, and heart disease. These three explanations are not mutually exclusive; all may help account for the hazards of visceral fat.

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