Belly fat can signal an unhealthy heart, from the Harvard Women's Health Watch

Carrying a little extra fat around the middle can be hard on a woman's ego—especially during swimsuit season—but it's even harder on her heart. The November 2012 Harvard Women's Health Watch examines the connection between abdominal fat and heart health.

Extra body fat increases the risk for conditions that contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Fat deposited in the abdomen—called visceral fat—lies deep enough to surround organs and disrupt their function.

"The fat around the belly is particularly metabolically active, meaning that it produces a number of factors that increase the risks for heart disease," explains Dr. Paula Johnson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Those factors include hormones and other substances that promote inflammation, raise blood pressure, alter cholesterol levels, and interfere with normal blood vessel activity.

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