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The Latest Silent Killer: An Expanding Waistline


For years, many doctors have considered chronic inflammation the “silent killer” among American adults. But now, research is pointing to a new culprit: the expanding waistline.

Doctors have been warning us for years about belly fat because it is part of a condition called metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Now, research gives even more cause for concern, as it calls the disorder the new silent killer.

An expanding waistline is known to be one of the factors that together with insulin resistance and high levels of blood pressure, triglycerides and lipids, make up metabolic syndrome. A commentary published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics finds the syndrome is more than the sum of its parts – belly fat plays a disproportionately large role.

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“The major factor accelerating the pathway to metabolic syndrome is overweight and obesity,” said Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., Dr.P.H., the first Sir Richard Doll Professor and senior academic advisor to the dean who senior authored the paper with Dawn H. Sherling, M.D., first author and an assistant professor of integrated medical science, and Parvathi Perumareddi, D.O., an assistant professor of integrated medical science, all faculty members in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. “Obesity is overtaking smoking as the leading avoidable cause of premature death in the U.S. and worldwide.”

Why Belly Fat Is So Harmful

According to the authors, the waist should be less than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men. They explain abdominal fat produces insulin resistance, but that effect only accounts for part of its health threat. Another part is that non-esterified free fatty acids are released from the abdominal fatty tissue, which leads to the accumulation of lipids in other parts of the body, such as the muscles and the liver. This further increases the risk of insulin resistance and abnormal lipid levels. In addition, fat tissue may manufacture substances that can separately increase cardiovascular risk factors and insulin resistance.

The authors warn that people with metabolic syndrome usually don’t have any symptoms, yet they have a 10-year risk of suffering a first coronary event. This insidious aspect of the condition’s progression is why it is called the silent killer. The 10-year estimate is based on the Framingham Risk Score of 16 to 18 percent, a likelihood almost as high as the risk of an individual who has experienced a prior heart attack.

Sherling points out that belly fat, otherwise known as visceral fat, poses a risk even to people who are otherwise not overweight. “Visceral fat and its clinically more easily measured correlate of waist circumference are gaining increasing attention as strong predictors of metabolic syndrome even if you remove body mass index from the equation,” she said. “There are patients who have a normal body mass index yet are at high risk. These patients represent an important population for clinicians to screen for metabolic syndrome.”

Adverse health effects from belly fat extend to cancer as well. Whether or not a person is obese, excess fat in this important area is linked to an increased risk of several malignancies.

Noted naturopath Dr. Josh Ash says abdominal fat wraps around major organs like the kidneys, liver and pancreas and can contribute to dementia and depression, along with the aforementioned diseases. He adds that it is toxic because it pumps out inflammatory substances that have a big impact on the body.

Childhood Obesity Leads to Cardiovascular Disease in Middle Age

It’s important to establish healthful lifestyle practices in childhood, stress the authors. They caution that when the present generation of American children reaches middle age, illness and deaths from cardiovascular disease will rise.

“The pandemic of obesity, which begins in childhood, is deeply concerning,” said Perumareddi. “Adolescents today are more obese and less physically active than their parents and already have higher rates of type 2 diabetes. It is likely that the current generation of children and adolescents in the U.S. will be the first since 1960 to have higher mortality rates than their parents due mainly to cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and stroke.”

Lifestyle Practices Make a Difference

The prospect of a major lifestyle overhaul can be intimidating, but modest improvements can make a difference. “In the U.S., cardiovascular disease will remain the leading killer due largely to obesity and physical inactivity,” said Hennekens. “Unfortunately, most people prefer prescription of pills to proscription of harmful lifestyles. The totality of evidence indicates that weight loss of 5 percent or more of body weight combined with a brisk walk for 20 or more minutes daily will significantly reduce cardiovascular events and deaths.”


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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