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

Special section: Cardiovascular connections

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

Published: September, 2009

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.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise

New subscriptions to Harvard Health Online are temporarily unavailable. Click the button below to learn about our other subscription offers.

Learn More »