The Beer Belly And Your Heart

Carrying a beer belly, or sporting a large waist relative to your hip circumference, may pose a considerable risk to your cardiovascular health. Though the connection between abdominal fat and cardiovascular health is still being studied, it appears that a beer belly can lead to a host of problems related to heart disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

How a Beer Belly Threatens Cardiovascular Health

The subcutaneous fat that we carry on our hips, thighs and extremities seems to function primarily as a form of energy storage. These fat deposits lie right under the skin and are easy to grab. But the internal fat that pads our organs can’t be reached, and in addition to simply storing energy, these visceral fat cells actively produce hormones and other chemical signals that are distributed throughout the body.

One of the effects of this active signal production is inflammation. We can’t necessarily feel it, but this constant, low-grade inflammation and stress seems to raise blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Visceral fat is also linked to higher levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and lower levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, which can contribute to heart disease.

Measuring Your Risk of Heart Disease

Dangerous levels of visceral fat are not always obvious, since not all visceral fat protrudes in the form of a beer belly. In fact, a person can be carrying risky levels of fat around his organs without appearing to be overweight or obese. To determine the risk of heart disease posed by your abdominal fat, measure your waist circumference and then measure the circumference of your hips.

Your waist circumference should be smaller than your hip circumference. Generally, women should have a waist smaller than 35 inches, and men should have a waist circumference of less than 40 inches. If your waist is larger, you may be able to reduce your heart disease risk by lowering your calorie intake and increasing your exercise levels.


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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. (2008). Weight and waist measurements: Tools for adults. Retrieved January, 17, 2011, from