One of the most frequent health complaints I hear from many of my patients, male and female, is that they seem to have a disproportionate amount of ugly belly fat that they just can’t seem to get rid of. As their doctor, I sympathize with their plight to want to look more attractive but more importantly I become concerned for their health. Here’s why.
Belly fat is not only unsightly, but it’s been proven in several medical studies to be a bellweather for other diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Recently, another medical study cited in the March 2010 Journal of Endocrinology showed the link between belly fat and yet another debilitating disease, osteoporosis. That’s right. Seems the more belly fat you have, the greater the risk is for developing osteoporosis.
The CDC estimates that 72 million Americans are obese! Researchers are calling the link between belly fat and osteoporosis an epidemic which is also occurring in younger, under age 40 people as well! Although women frequently get osteoporosis, men also get it.
Interestingly, there is a surprising link that seems to be emerging between belly fat and osteoporosis and that is a deficiency in Vitamin D. Studies have shown that people who have more overall body fat, especially excess visceral, or belly fat, are also likely to be deficient in Vitamin D. Why?
According to the studies, fat cells seem to lock-up circulating Vitamin D so that it does not get into bones. Therefore, the more greater the number of fat cells, the more Vitamin D deficient you can be. Obviously, the key to help prevent osteoporosis, and other diseases, is to first prevent and/or get rid of excess body and belly fat. Let me explain how excess belly fat can develop in the first place.
Losing Excess Belly Fat
You can have excess belly fat at any age, but as I tell my over-40 patients, just getting older can make you much more prone to belly fat for these reasons:
Perimenopause/menopause in women, where estrogen dramatically declines.
Andropause in men, where testosterone dramatically declines.
These hormonal changes upset the relationship of estrogen and testosterone to another hormone called insulin. When estrogen and testosterone levels decrease they can no longer keep insulin, a fat storing hormone, in check. The result is insulin levels run too high, fat burning slows way down and fat storage goes way up, right around the abdominal section, creating an “apple shaped” you. This excess belly fat can also be a red flag for developing diabetes. Too high levels of insulin over a period of time can eventually result in no, or very little, insulin being produced, leading to the development of diabetes. Ask your doctor for a hemoglobin A1c blood test, which can reveal if your insulin levels are too high.
To stop this whole insulin/bellyfat/osteoporosis/other diseases wheel from turning, you must do two things. First, balance your hormone levels (ask your doctor about bioidentical hormone replacement from natural sources) and second, stop insulin from over-producing. You can do this by simply watching what you eat and exercising more. Here’s how:
Limit sugars: Aim for between 15 and 18 grams a day. You must read food package labels very carefully. If a “sugars” category is not listed, don’t eat it.
Maximize Fiber Content: Aim for 25 grams of fiber a day. Fiber helps decrease blood sugar levels.
Avoid/Limit Refined carbohydrates: Limit real sugar-sweetened cake, cookies, pie, candy, to very minimal once in a while “treats”. Or switch to sugar-free baked goods.
Watch Overall Carbohydrates: Limit daily carbs to between 75 and 100 grams per day of 0-low sugar, highly complex slow carbs like brown rice, barley, quinoa, and amaranth, vegetables. Eat low sugar fruits like green apples, plums, strawberries. Some fruits, like bananas, are very high in sugars. Put these on hold for a while when losing belly fat.
Aerobic Exercise – 30-40 minutes at least 4 times a week. Use a stair stepper, elliptical, stationary bicycle, treadmill, running, or do fat-burning, fun aerobic exercise like Zumba. These are all weight bearing exercises that also help build bone and prevent osteoporosis!
Weight Training – 15-20 minutes at least 3 times a week. Building muscle helps you burn fat and keeps insulin levels down. Weight training also helps prevent osteoporosis.
Antioxidants – like Vitamin C, E, resveratrol, can help you burn fat and rid your body of the oxidation-by products as you do.
Vitamin D Deficiency, Belly Fat, Osteoporosis
Even those of you who live in the southern states can be Vitamin D deficient if you work inside and do not spend enough time outdoors. Those of you who live in northern states where the distance from the sun is much greater, it’s almost a given that your D levels are likely not sufficient. This could explain why obesity levels are much higher in northern latitude states – people simply do not get enough sun exposure year-round and are likely D-deficient. Did you know that just 15 minutes in the summer sun gives you 10,000 i.u. of Vitamin D?
How do you know if you’re D-deficient? A simple blood test at your doctor’s office can determine it. If so, supplementing with Vitamin D3 up to 2,000 mg a day can bring back optimal levels and help you to both release excess body fat, prevent osteoporosis and other diseases as well.
As I mentioned earlier, belly fat is more than just unattractive – it’s a warning sign that your body’s metabolism hormones are out of whack and need balancing. The good news though is that you can get rid of belly fat by paying more attention to your diet and exercising. Supplementing with Vitamin D3, as research shows, can help you both beat belly fat and the diseases that can develop from it!
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Natural Health News
Photo Credit: Michelle Meiklejohn