They discovered a link between belly fat, also known as visceral fat, inflammation and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
The discovery came while the team was studying obese mice that lack leptin, a hormone that plays a role in appetite and metabolism. When they transplanted fat cells from normal mice into the leptin-deficient mice, the fat transplants prevented obesity and produced leptin.
The fat transplants also became inflamed, and the researchers set out to discover what was causing the inflammation, and whether it was linked to atherosclerosis.
They then divided mice that had been developed to be high in cholesterol and have hardened arteries into three groups: two that received fat transplants from normal mice, and one control group.
Some of the mice received visceral fat transplants, while others received subcutaneous fat (the type found just under the skin).
The mice that received the visceral fat developed atherosclerosis at an accelerated rate, and had inflammation similar to that found in the leptin-deficient mice. Those that received subcutaneous fat had increased inflammation, but not atherosclerosis, while the control group had neither inflammation nor increased atherosclerosis.
The results suggest a strong link between belly fat, inflammation and hardening of the arteries.
The researchers found that treating the mice with pioglitazone, a diabetes drug, was able to calm the inflammation and stop the atherosclerosis. Your body has two types of fat: visceral and subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat is found just under your skin, and is the type that causes dimpling and cellulite. Visceral fat, on the other hand, shows up in your abdomen and surrounds your vital organs including your liver, heart and muscles.
Visceral fat is the one that is linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke, among many other chronic diseases. And while it’s often referred to as “belly fat” because it can cause a “beer belly” or an apple-shaped body, you can have visceral fat even if you’re thin.
You may think that fat is simply an inert substance that makes it more difficult to fit into your favorite jeans. In reality, however, fat cells are an active and intelligent part of your body, producing hormones that impact your brain, liver, immune system and even your ability to reproduce.
What’s more, the hormones your fat cells produce impact how much you eat and how much fat you burn.
One of these hormones is leptin, and leptin sends signals that reduce hunger, increase fat burning and reduce fat storage. That is, if your cells are communicating properly and can “hear” this message.
If you are eating a diet that is high in sugar and grains -- this is the same type of diet that will also increase inflammation in your body -- as the sugar gets metabolized in fat cells, fat releases surges in leptin. Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to the leptin (just as your body can become resistant to insulin).
And when you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer hear the messages telling it to stop eating and burn fat -- so it remains hungry and stores more fat.
Leptin-resistance also causes an increase in visceral fat, sending you on a vicious cycle of hunger, fat storage and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.
Belly Fat and Inflammation are Caused by the Same Things
If you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, and a host of other chronic diseases, the key is to keep your inflammation levels low, and avoid gaining visceral fat in your body.
How can you do this?
Well, don’t let anyone convince you that this can be achieved by taking a drug, as the misguided researchers in the above study suggested.
Instead, you should first avoid eating pro-inflammatory foods. Sugar, soda, alcohol, bread (grains) and trans fats are all examples of foods that will increase inflammation in your body. Foods that will reduce inflammation are fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fats like krill oil, and certain spices like ginger.
Also, if you eat the foods that are right for your nutritional type, you can rest assured that you will not be creating excess inflammation in your body.
The next piece of the puzzle -- and this one is critical -- is exercise. Exercise not only lowers inflammation in your body, it is also one of the best weapons to fight visceral fat.
Remember, you can be thin, underweight even, and still have dangerous visceral fat around your organs. If you are thin, but rarely exercise, this may be you. And if you have a beer belly or a lot of fat around your midsection, you can also bet on the fact that you’re holding onto visceral fat.
The good news is that exercise can drastically reduce any visceral fat, and quickly too.
One study found that volunteers who did not exercise had an 8.6 percent increase in visceral fat after eight months, while those who exercised the most LOST over 8 percent of their visceral fat during that time.
So whether you are thin or carrying excess belly fat, embarking on a healthy nutrition plan and an exercise program will do wonders for your future health.