EAST LANSING, Mich. – Belly fat is known to increase the risk of cancer, but exactly how is just being discovered.
Shedding light on the importance of shedding pounds, a new study from Michigan State University finds that a particular protein released from fat may be to blame for causing cells to turn cancerous. More specifically, the researchers say it isn’t so much surface (subcutaneous) fat that causes the most harm. Rather, it’s a deeper layer of abdominal (visceral) fat that seems to produce more of the tumor causing protein.
“Our study suggests that body mass index, or BMI, may not be the best indicator,” says study lead author Jamie Bernard in a press release. “It’s abdominal obesity, and even more specifically, levels of a protein called fibroblast growth factor-2 that may be a better indicator of the risk of cells becoming cancerous.”
Echoing the concerns of numerous health officials, The MSU researchers emphasize the importance of their latest study given the American obesity epidemic. They noted that obesity seems to be a factor in many types of cancer, including those that affect the breasts, colon, prostate, uterine system, and kidneys.
The study authors added that fat also increases estrogen, which is possibly implicated in increasing risk for some cancers.
“There’s always an element of chance in whether a person will get cancer or not,” Bernard says, noting genetics are also an influence. “But by making smarter choices when it comes to diet and exercise and avoiding harmful habits like smoking, people can always help skew the odds in their favor.”
The study adds a new element to other recent research which finds that up to 90 percent of adult males in developed countries are “overfat,” as distinct from being overweight. In many individuals, researchers said there can be excess fat without one’s BMI being high enough to be considered overweight.
Led by Australian health expert Philip Maffetone, the study on over-fatness also pointed to excess fat stored in the abdomen region in particular. Researchers warned of abdominal fat’s association with “an increased risk of chronic disease (e.g., cancer, stroke, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes), higher levels of morbidity and mortality, and reduced quality of life.”
Offering some good news, a Harvard Medical School article notes that “visceral fat yields fairly easily to exercise and diet, with benefits ranging from lower blood pressure to more favorable cholesterol levels.”
The same article notes that surface fat (the kind you can pinch) located at the waist can be frustratingly difficult to lose, but in normal weight people is not considered as much of a risk as visceral fat.
As far as dietary recommendations for cutting dangerous belly fat, research from the American Heart Association suggests that cutting sugary drinks should be among the first steps.
Using data from the federally funded Framingham Heart Study, the AHA research showed that “among middle-aged adults, there was a direct correlation between greater sweetened beverage consumption and increased visceral fat.”
The growing attention on sugar in encouraging disease-causing abdominal fat comes amid an avalanche of articles and scientific studies that suggest a revamping of dietary guidelines on carbohydrates – guidelines that may have been influenced by sugar lobbies starting in the 60s.
Indeed, an especially large study presented at this week’s European Society of Cardiology conference suggested that diets high in carbohydrates, such as sugar, were more dangerous than diets high in fat.
The emerging indictments of sugar aren’t just changing recommendations, but in many cities such as New York, Chicago, and Baltimore, they are resulting in attempts at legislating warnings or taxes on sugary drinks.
“One in four children here in Baltimore City is obese. The biggest contributor to why children are obese is drinking these sugary beverages,” Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen was quoted as saying in a CBS report. “We’re seeing children start to have adult on-set diseases, diseases that used to be only adults would get.”
As in other cases across the country, the city’s attempts at legislating posted warnings about the dangers of sugary drinks have been met by opposition from state retail and beverage associations.
The complete findings of the MSU study are available in a paper in the journal Oncogene.