By Dr Paul Batman, PhD

In the lead up to the Christmas period we always have the choice to either over indulge or control our holiday urges. Typically the first sign of overindulgence we notice is an increase in our belly fat! In the New Year we will look in the mirror and see these handles appearing on the sides of our trunk or we will have to let out the belt that extra notch. We know that the fat on our body is divided into storage fat and essential fat. Essential fat is needed for normal healthy functioning and is found in small amounts in your bone marrow, organs, and nervous system and in muscle. Male essential fat comprises approximately 3% of a male’s body weight, while in females it is about 12% of body weight and is further stored in the breasts, pelvis, hips and thighs. Storage fat is something entirely different. This is accumulated under our skin, in our muscles and at other sites within our body. Storage fat also surrounds our internal organs affording some protection. When storage fat surrounds our liver, kidneys, heart and intestines there is usually an increased health risk. We call this an increase in abdominal adiposity. These abdominal adipocytes can cause an increase in the release of fatty acids, inflammatory compounds and other hormones that can lead to adverse changes in blood fats, glucose and blood pressure. The increased toxicity of abdominal fat (visceral fat) causes a general increase in oxidative stress, which in turn causes an increase in inflammation of all tissues in the body. The increased oxidative stress is responsible for an increase in blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels and increased in risk profile for all forms of metabolic disease. The visceral fat cells release a significant amount of their metabolic products into the blood via the arteries that supply the liver after having passed through the spleen and gastrointestinal tract.

The increased free fatty acids and triglycerides that are now in the blood make their way to the liver. The liver, pancreas, muscles and heart do not have the ability to store the increased free fatty acids that are now in the circulation. As a consequence the free fatty acids begin to pile up in these organs causing an increase in blood sugar levels, increased release of insulin, increased blood cholesterol and a general increase in inflammation throughout the body. The visceral adipocytes responsible for this cascade also become inflamed causing a disruption tin the functioning of its endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria within the cell. The most significant problem caused by this reaction is insulin resistance within body tissues. This is one of the reasons why an increase in abdominal adiposity can be so damaging as it further contributes to Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The essential fat that surrounds a female’s thigh and hips can have an opposite effect to abdominal fat deposition. The adipocytes found around these regions can control their cells content preventing them from spilling over into the circulatory system and eventually to the other organs. The control of the cell’s content effectively protects the liver and other organs. This is why it is sometimes very difficult to move fat from these areas in weight loss programs. Strangely enough there are some researchers who are now reporting how this lower extremity body fat is important in potentially reducing cardiovascular risk. A corollary to this is the suggestion that liposuction typically used on these areas could in the long term increase a persons’ risk of heart disease. A study conducted in 2005 that examined over 3,000 subjects all in their seventies, found that those with fatter thighs had a reduced risk of cardiovascular risk factors when compared to those with thinner thighs.

This has got to be good news for those of us who just cannot trim those thighs down!