The Most Harmful Body Fat

the-most-harmful-body-fat_300Many experts have believed that body fat stored in the thighs and lower body is less dangerous to your heart health than fat that that hangs over the belt. But researchers at Washington State University in St. Louis think they have identified the most dangerous body fat of all.

The real danger, say these scientists, is excess liver fat. That is the key to insulin resistance, cholesterol abnormalities and other conditions that make you prone to diabetes and heart disease. When you possess too much fat stored in your liver, you may have what is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

“Since obesity is so much more common now, both in adults and in children, we are seeing a corresponding increase in the incidence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” says researcher Samuel Klein, M.D. “That can lead to serious liver disorders such as cirrhosis in extreme cases, but more often it tends to have metabolic consequences.”

Klein’s research shows that kids with fatty liver disease also have problems with glucose and fat metabolism. They have less HDL (good) cholesterol. Those without a fatty liver do not have markers of metabolic problems. Whether their bodies were shaped like pears or apples, it was fat in the liver that influenced metabolic risk.

“Abdominal fat is not the best marker for risk,” says Klein. “It appears liver fat is the real marker. Abdominal fat probably has been cited in the past because it tends to track so closely with liver fat. But if you look at people where the two don’t correspond — with excess fat in the liver but not in the abdomen and vice versa — the only thing that consistently predicts metabolic derangements is fat in the liver.”

Klein also found nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is related to the release of larger amounts of fatty acids into the bloodstream that, in turn, are linked to elevated triglycerides and to insulin resistance, a key precursor to type 2 diabetes.

“Multiple organ systems become resistant to insulin in these adolescent children with fatty liver disease,” Klein says. “The liver becomes resistant to insulin and muscle tissue does, too. This tells us fat in the liver is a marker for metabolic problems throughout the entire system.”

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.