Are Environmental Toxins Increasing Your Belly Fat?

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Weight Loss
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Toxins are all around us. They are in the air we breathe and the water we drink. All these chemicals, pesticides, and preservatives can take a serious toll on our health, causing a wide range of problems from asthma and autism to heart attacks and cancer. Now, a new study published in the journal Obesity found that there’s a connection between the common environmental toxin PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) and higher amounts of abdominal fat.

Researchers in Uppsala, Sweden, studied hundreds of 70-year-old men and women and found a strong correlation between levels of PCB189 in the blood and high proportions of fat in the abdomen. The findings suggest that PCB189, which has previously been linked to diabetes, may play a role in how fat is stored in the body.

What makes belly fat (also called visceral fat) so dangerous? Visceral fat breaks down much faster than subcutaneous fat, and because of its close proximity to vital internal organs, it continuously floods the system with free fatty acids that contribute to insulin resistance, arterial dysfunction, elevations in blood lipids, liver disease, and other problems.

Excess belly fat also upsets hormones and signaling proteins—including those that promote appetite control. Plus, an elevated waist circumference—along with low HDL cholesterol and high blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, and triglycerides—is a hallmark of metabolic syndrome, the cluster of conditions that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

To help reduce the effect of PCBs and other chemicals on your body, I recommend following this simple detoxification program—which I also call a “spring cleaning.”

Plus, there are other important steps you can take to reduce your belly fat:

  • Exercise more. As stored fat is mobilized for energy, your belly will be the first to shrink. According to American College of Sports Medicine guidelines, a minimum of four hours of moderately intense physical activity per week is necessary for clinically significant weight loss.
  • Cut your portion sizes and eat a healthier diet. A study involving nearly 500,000 European men and women found that those with the greatest adherence to a Mediterranean diet—high in fiber and plant foods and low in saturated fat—were the least likely to have abdominal obesity. My experience, however, has been that a low-carbohydrate diet works best when insulin resistance is an issue. It puts your body in a fat-burning mode and helps control appetite by cutting down on blood sugar swings that cause food cravings.
  • Get more sleep. People who get inadequate sleep tend to be heavier. Furthermore, untreated sleep apnea is clearly linked with obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. If you’re struggling with any of these conditions, especially if you snore, talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea.
  • Let in some sun. You need to regularly spend time outdoors—without sunscreen—to produce enough vitamin D. Blood levels of this vitamin are inversely associated with insulin resistance, diabetes, blood pressure, and according to recent research, excess weight and abdominal obesity. Have your vitamin D blood level tested, and if it’s not in the 50–80 ng/mL range, take enough supplemental vitamin D to get it there—and always take at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day during the winter.

Now, it’s your turn: Do you have any secrets you’ve used for reducing belly fat?

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