If you’re carrying a bit of a spare tyre in the tummy department, you probably just think it just affects your clothing size. But increasingly, it’s becoming clear that excess fat can have significant health impacts. Now researchers in the US have found that fat in the belly might actually be involved in fuelling inflammation in the body.
When you think of the word inflammation, you probably think of redness or swelling that happens if you get an infected cut. But inflammation throughout the body - and the molecules involved in it – plays an important role in many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This type of inflammation is called “systemic inflammation”. Most studies of belly fat have looked at sub-cutaneous fat – the stuff just under the skin – but they haven’t found a link between this type of fat and inflammation.
In this study, the researchers looked at visceral fat, which is wrapped around the internal organs in your tummy. To do this, they took blood samples from a vein called the Hepatic Portal vein, which carries blood from the digestive organs into the liver, in obese people. Then they compared this with blood taken from the arm. The scientists then measured the levels of different molecules involved in inflammation. They found high levels of two molecules called IL-6 and C-reactive protein, which are known to be involved in systemic inflammation, and are related to diseases such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Doctors say that if you’re an apple-shaped person, with fat stored on your tummy, then you’re at greater risk of heart disease and diabetes than pear-shaped people, with fatter hips and thighs. The researchers think that this inflammatory function for fat may be the reason why – and also suggest that keeping down the size of your beer-gut may help more than just the fit of your clothes.