The Link between Belly Fat, Depression, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

In a previous article, I wrote about the link between belly fat (visceral fat) and depression.

I have also written numerous articles on the links between belly fat and chronic disease:

Today’s post connects all of that research.

Today’s post is based on the findings of this study, which suggest that belly fat (visceral fat) “is an important pathway by which depression adds to the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

sad homer The Link between Belly Fat, Depression, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

sad homer

The Study

fat1 The Link between Belly Fat, Depression, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

Visceral belly fat is the white stuff surrounding your organs. Subcutaneous fat is the white stuff on top of the muscles but under the skin

Researchers from Rush University Medical Center looked at over 400 women “who were participating in the Women in the South Side Health Project (WISH) in Chicago, a longitudinal study of the menopausal transition”.

They screened the women for depression and measured their visceral fat with a CT scan.

Even after adjusting for variables that might account for the accumulation of visceral fat, the researchers found a strong correlation between depression and high levels of visceral fat.

The women who showed signs of depression (assessed using the CES-D scale) had 24.5% more visceral belly fat than the women with fewer depressive symptoms.

No association was found between depression and subcutaneous belly fat (non-visceral).

So, what does this mean and why is depression linked to increased visceral fat, diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

Lead researcher Dr. Lynda Powell speculated that “depression triggers the accumulation of visceral fat by means of certain chemical changes in the body”.

Some of those changes could include:

  • Alterations of the HPA axis (hypothalamicpituitary-
    adrenal) resulting in excess cortisol production or altered diurnal cortisol patterning
  • The excess cortisol could lead to increased visceral fat because glucocorticoid receptor density is
    higher in VAT than in other types of adipose tissue
  • Depression is also associated with increased inflammation. Various markers of inflammation (C-RP, fibrinogen, interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor. All of these markers have been noted to be elevated in individuals suffering from obesity, diabetes and atherosclerotic vascular disease.
  • Adipose tissue, particularly VAT, secretes a host of inflammatory markers and is associated with increased systemic inflammation

Future studies are planned to address the specific glucocorticoid or inflammatory mechanisms responsible for the link between depression, visceral body fat, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But for now, it’s going to have to be good enough to simply know that the link exists.

Reference

Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, a social media nerd and a student of nutrition and exercise science. Since 2008, Doug has brought his real-world experience online via his health & fitness blog, Health Habits.

6 Comments

  1. Weight Loss Tips - O. Mackey

    June 25, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I have been searching all over the internet for something to give me the correct advice. This is not exactly what I was looking for but it was very helpful. You have a great site, full of rich content. Thanks alot.

  2. Pingback: The Link between Belly Fat and Depression | Mindshare Health

  3. Steve Parker, M.D.

    April 30, 2009 at 11:28 am

    We’re learning that body fat is not just a storage form of energy. Visceral fat in particular is hormonally active. Hormones are chemical messengers that travel over the body and affect other tissues. The inflammatory particles you mention are similar.

    -Steve

  4. Emily

    April 30, 2009 at 9:08 am

    This also ties into the “apples vs. pears” idea — women shaped like “apples” carry more visceral fat, “pears” more subcutaneous. And fat around the butt/thigh area is supposedly somewhat protective, whereas visceral is, obviously, very bad. So body shape has major implications for health — “apples” tend to have more hormonal imbalances, too. (I read a book a while ago, by Marie Savard, called “Apples and Pears,” or something like that. Very interesting info about health. Not a gimmicky fad diet book, though there was a diet plan in the back.)

  5. Matt Laye

    April 29, 2009 at 11:45 am

    One additonal “dot” I’d like to add to your nice connections. Several studies suggest that exercise (specifically high intensity aerobic) preferentially rids your body of visceral over subcutaneous fat. Which is consistent with exercise being anti-depressive and a powerful preventive measure against both diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

  6. ditchthediet

    May 4, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks for that. That is fascinating. A lot of Chi Kung practitiioners say that depression is partly caused by a lack of energetic strenght around the central hara point in the lower belly, so it is interesting that the studies are showing a corelation betwen visceral fat and depression.