Beware of Belly Fat: Reducing It Naturally
Can you be both fat and healthy? No. According to detailed studies, obesity is more damaging to health than smoking, high levels of alcohol consumption, or poverty.
~ Michael T. Murray, ND,
& Joseph Pizzorno, ND –
The Encyclopedia of
Natural Medicine (3rd Ed.2012)
You may feel unattractive with your more-than-a-few extra pounds, but do you realize how much they are actually threatening your wellness and longevity? In this day of heightened concern about health insurance coverage and its costs, proactive efforts to prevent future medical conditions can provide greater peace of mind. Not all body fat is equal. Determining how to reduce your belly fat, the dangerous fat that envelops your visceral organs to the detriment of your entire body, is one of the most valuable first steps you can take toward better physical, mental, and even financial health.
Abdominal Obesity Defined
In the United States, according to the most recent CDC report, more than 70% of adults are overweight (including obese), more than 37% of adults are obese, and over 5% of adults are extremely/morbidly obese. Although other factors are relevant, the body mass index [BMI; calculated as weight (lbs)/height (inches)2 x 703] is the accepted medical standard for classifying individuals according to their body composition: (1) Normal Weight BMI is 18.5-24.9; (2) Overweight BMI is 25-29.9; (3) Obese BMI is over 30; and (4) Extremely Obese BMI is over 40.
“Abdominal obesity” focuses primarily on where fat is stored, not merely on the number on the scale. It is examined in light of two measurements, waist circumference (WC) and waist/hip ratio. WC is determined by snugly placing a measuring tape horizontally around the abdomen, just above the upper hip bone. A man’s WC should be 40 inches or less, and a woman’s should be 35 inches or less. If a person’s WC is below the applicable number of inches, then waist circumference/hip circumference becomes important. A healthy waist/hip ratio is 1.0 or less for a man, and 0.8 or less for a woman.
Risks & Causes of Excess Abdominal Fat
Belly fat, which increases body-wide inflammation, is dangerous and accelerates aging. Obesity, and particularly abdominal obesity, is strongly associated with a wide number of degenerative conditions, including cancer (women – breast, colon, gallbladder, uterine; men – prostate and colon); cardiovascular disease and related problems (high cholesterol/triglycerides, hypertension, atherosclerosis, blood clots, stroke/heart attack), insulin resistance/diabetes, menstrual disorders and PCOS, gallstones, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, migraines, multiple sclerosis, and erectile dysfunction.
Abdominal fat tissue (known as adipose tissue, consisting of fat-storing cells called adipocytes) is now viewed as a complex metabolic and endocrine organ. Fat cells normally secrete adipokines, hormone-like compounds that regulate insulin sensitivity. The increase in abdominal fat causes alteration of adipokines that actually promotes insulin resistance and increased appetite, which in turn results in production of even more abdominal fat. Adiponectin, one type of adipokine that fat accumulation reduces, normally combats inflammation, lowers triglycerides, and blocks the development of atherosclerosis, a major complication of diabetes. Research has demonstrated a number of other causes of obesity and excessive abdominal fat, also related to decreased blood sugar control.
Second, the set point weight theory maintains that each person’s fat cells establish a programmed weight that the body seeks to maintain by regulating the amount of food and calories consumed. When enlarged fat cells in an obese individual shrink, they either send messages to the brain to eat, or block appetite-suppressing compounds, explaining why dieting does not work.
A third theory relates to diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), the conversion of food to heat (versus being stored), which is markedly lower in overweight individuals, largely due to insulin insensitivity and lower amounts of brown fat. Since individuals predisposed to obesity continue to experience decreased DIT compared to non-overweight individuals, permanent support for insulin sensitivity is critical. Brown fat produces far more heat than the more prevalent white fat, and evidence supports the theory that leaner individuals have a higher ratio of brown/white fat than do overweight individuals.
The evidence behind a fourth causal theory establishes that a low level of serotonin (the “happiness hormone”) in the brain, received as a signal of starvation, increases appetite and results in carbohydrate binge eating. Unfortunately, studies show that brain serotonin levels greatly decline during dieting.
Most people resist change, especially when it means overhauling a long-maintained lifestyle. Some basic changes that can produce big results include: (1) finding personal, compelling reasons to commit to self-investment; (2) exploring possible diagnoses of diabetes, hypothyroidism, candidiasis/leaky gut, adrenal fatigue, and/or depression; (3) when possible, using natural remedies in lieu of certain prescription drugs (e.g., corticosteroids/prednisone, psychotropics/antidepressants, and those for diabetes); (4) reducing stress and increasing sleep; (5) an herbal kit or a proven detoxifying drink (lemon-and-water variations; green tea), priming the body for weight loss by cleansing it of cell-crippling toxins and boosting the body’s seven elimination pathways; (6) adopting a healthy weight-loss dietary program that restricts calorie intake, includes ample high-quality, nutrient-dense foods (ideally organic, non-GMO), excludes gluten, dairy, alcohol, preservatives, processed foods and sugars, all white-flour foods, and saturated/hydrogenated/trans fats, and minimizes/eliminates simple carbohydrates, legumes, and grains; and (7) consuming a daily breakfast that follows these guidelines, and cleansing the body daily by drinking at least 64 ounces (up to 50% of body weight in ounces) of water.
Aim to lose fat, but also gain muscle, keeping in mind that muscle weighs more, but the body burns more calories to maintain a pound of muscle than it does to maintain a pound of fat. Loss of 1-2 pounds/week, or no more than 1% of total body weight, is a safe, sustainable, long-term goal. The more muscle the body gains, the more calories it will burn daily (1 pound of muscle burns roughly 5-6 calories/day at rest). Start and keep moving on a regular basis, ideally daily, or no fewer than five days per week, for a total of 40-60 minutes/day.
Proven Belly Fat Blasters
While maintaining a weight-minimizing lifestyle is most critical to reducing abdominal fat, certain dietary supplements can support or accelerate the process. The appropriateness of a particular product is highly individualized, and getting results can require some experimentation and patience. The scope and space of this article allows for only limited discussion of just a few generally safe, effective options (organized here alphabetically):
5-HTP: As a direct precursor to serotonin, this amino acid made from the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia has been shown in human clinical studies of overweight women to promote satiety, which leads to reduced calorie intake and weight loss.
AMPK Activators: The enzyme AMPK is the body’s master regulator of metabolism that promotes mitochondrial production and revitalizes aging cells/inhibits aging. Activating AMPK reduces abdominal fat and can produce the same overall health benefits as exercise, dieting, and weight loss. Researched AMPK activators include: (1) Metformin, a well-known diabetic drug; (2) Berberine (compared to Metformin in studies), a well-studied plant compound known to lower blood sugar, balance body lipids, and combat obesity; and (2) Gynostemma pentaphyllum, a traditional Chinese medicinal herb long used to treat metabolic problems.
Black Cumin Seed Oil (Nigella Sativa): Scientific evidence demonstrates that this nutraceutical suppresses chronic inflammation and boosts proper immune function. In a 2014 randomized, double-blind, controlled trial involving 20 overweight, sedentary women, researchers found that 2g/day for 8 weeks lowered BMI, total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, and increased HDL.
Chromium (Chromemate): A trace mineral that increases insulin sensitivity and facilitates uptake of glucose in the cells, researchers have demonstrated that supplemented chromium lowers body weight but increases lean body mass.
Garcinia cambogia (60% HCA): Though controversial because certain factors, including dose, extraction method, and study subject genetics, can impact particular product efficacy, some short-term, small human studies have demonstrated this fruit’s association with short-term weight and fat loss. HCA is thought to regulate serotonin/suppress the appetite and inhibit the enzyme (ATP citrate lyase) that the body uses to convert carbohydrates to fat.
Meal Replacers/Protein Powders: Protein is more satiating than carbohydrates and fat, and using protein-dense meal replacement powders and/or between-meal protein powders is a long-standing, proven belly fat/weight loss strategy when 2.2g of total protein per kilogram of body weight is consumed daily. The selected meal/protein product should be low glycemic and high in soluble fiber. Whey protein (ideally grass fed, organic, micro-filtered isolate) especially supports fat burning before exercise, and can help those who exercise gain or maintain lean body mass.
PGX Fiber (soluble konjac/glucmannan + sodium alginate + xanthan gum): Holistic practitioners view PGX as a “super-fiber.” A 2011 study concluded that adding 5g of well-tolerated PGX to low-calorie meals reduces food consumption and increases satiety.
Probiotics: While more human trial evidence (examining more strains, long-term effects, and larger sample sizes) is desirable to confirm widespread obesity treatment potential, studies to date have shown that modifying the bacteria naturally found in the gut can reduce chronic systemic inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and glucose and fat metabolism, and lower body weight. Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii strains are some of the most widely studied.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs): The body uses these 6-12 carbon-chained saturated fats from coconut oil differently from long-chain triglycerides (LCTs; predominant in the American diet; usually stored in fat deposits and decrease metabolism). MCTs are thought to promote weight loss because they: (1) increase ketosis (rapid formation of ketone bodies, an energy source alternative to glucose) (the body absorbs MCTs more efficiently, thus using them for faster energy production for immediate use by organs and muscles); (2) increase thermogenesis (fat burning); (3) suppress appetite; (4) slightly lower blood glucose ; and (5) provide approximately 10% fewer calories than LCTs. Avoid potential nausea and stomach upset by starting with 1/4 teaspoon of unheated MCTs several times daily, and increasing the dose as tolerated.
The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, are for educational purposes only, and are not intended to take the place of a physician’s advice.
Submitted by J. Erika Dworkin, Certified Lifestyle Educator, and Nutrition Consultant and owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe, (860.646.8178, 378 Middle Turnpike West, Manchester, CT, www.cthealthshop.com), nutrition specialists trusted since 1956. Erika is available to speak to groups.
All statements in this article are evidence-based and references are available upon request.