It’s another Saturday night in the E.R. The PA system barks a warning, announcing an auto accident with multiple injuries. I hear the sirens and know this is the “golden hour,” the critical 60 minutes that determine whether they will live or die. Two ambulances arrive at the door and I have to determine immediately what’s wrong so what is one of the first vital signs I check? How much they weigh. C’mon Travis, you’re thinking, you don’t check vitals? Well, sure, I’m looking at a lot of things simultaneously, but often one of the most important indicators of how well a patient will manage a health crisis is how much excess weight he or she is carrying. Research suggests that obese people are 37 percent more likely to die from injuries sustained in a car crash than people of ideal weight. In fact, visceral fat-the most dangerous kind of fat, the fat inside your abdomen that packs internal organs in a toxic soup of goop-literally attacks the people who are lugging it around all day. It’s one of the primary causes of the diseases that haunt our lives: Heart disease. Stroke. Diabetes. Cancer. Arthritis.
You know you have visceral fat if you gut is round and firm, your waist is bigger than you hips, or your Wranglers have a waist size of 40 or higher form men and 35 or higher for women. If that description fits you, it probably means your body is storing your excess fat like packing peanuts that surround and infiltrate your muscles, heart, liver, kidneys, intestines and pancreas.
But visceral fat doesn’t just lie there, looking ugly. It actively works to harm your body by secreting a number of substances, collectively called adipokines. Adipokines include a hormone called resistin, which leads to high blood sugar and raised you risk of diabetes; angiotensinogen, a compound that raises blood pressure; and interleukin-6, a chemical associated with arterial inflammation and heart disease. Visceral fat also messes with another important hormone called adiponectin, which regulates the metabolism of lipids and glucose. The more belly fat you have, the less adiponectin you have, and the lower your metabolism. (and here’s the crazy part: The lower your metabolism, the more belly fat you’ll store. It’s as though belly fat is conspiring to harm you by breeding even more belly fat!)
Meanwhile your liver, faced with a high tide of fat globules, feels like it’s swimming in energy. But as it burns that overly abundant energy source, it produces excess cholesterol, which in turn gunks up your arteries in the form of plaque. Allow that plaque buildup to continue for a decade or more, and that’s when you and I will meet in the E.R.; your increased risks of stroke, heart attack, and diabetes will pay off in an “event.”
Small Changes Lead to a Dramatically Better Life
If an obese person loses 10% of his or her weight, it will result in a:
31% decrease in risk of diabetes
20% decrease in risk of high blood-fat levels
25% decrease in risk of high blood pressure
21% decrease in risk of cardiovascular disease
And the lower your weight goes beyond that initial 10 percent drop, the lower your risk goes, as well. A study published in The Lancet showed that normal-weight people could expect to live longer, possibly as much as 10 years longer, than people who are morbidly obese. That’s an entire decade to know your grandkids or walk on the beach with your husband or wife. Another decade to make plans and realize them.
Excerpt from the New York Times Bestseller The Lean Belly Prescription by Dr. Travis Stork, an ER physician and Emmy-nominated co-host of the award-winning talk show “The Doctors.” He is a fervent believer in helping patients feel empowered when it comes to their health. Invite Dr. Stork to speak at your next event.