Sandy Smith June 26, 2012
Important role ... not all belly fat is bad fat, study finds.
Can't fasten your jeans? Is your muffin top alerting the world to your flabby tummy? Don't worry, belly fat might look unsightly but scientists have discovered your spare tyre isn't all bad news.
A new study by researchers at Loyola University Chicago has shown that a particular kind of stomach fat previously thought to serve little purpose, may in fact play an important role in regulating the immune system. Researchers believe it could lead to new drugs being developed for organ transplant patients and patients with auto-immune diseases such as lupus and Crohn's disease.
The stomach fat identified by the researchers is the omentum, a sheet of fatty tissue attached to the stomach that hangs down in front of the intestines, providing a protective cushion. The omentum is one of the main fat-storage depots in the body and thickens as fat accumulates there, expanding the skin depending on how much fat is being carried. "It is shaped like an apron and can stretch like pizza dough," explained Makio Iwashima, an associate professor in the university's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, one of the scientists behind the discovery. "Although its physiological function was not clearly understood, doctors have known for many years that attaching omentum to damaged organs helped the tissue to heal — a procedure known as 'omentum transposition'" he said.
In the latest research, Iwashima and his team demonstrated using a mouse model, that omentum contains three types of cells that play critical roles in tissue healing: adult stem cells, cells that reduce acute inflammation, and cells that prevent unnecessary immune responses. "We now have evidence that the omentum is not just fat sitting in the belly," said Iwashima. "Based on these data, we propose that the major function of omentum is to recruit and expand cells that specialize in tissue healing and regeneration," he said ."We think our findings will help the development of effective methods to promote tissue healing and reduce unwanted immune responses that cause autoimmune disorders or rejection of transplanted organs." It is hoped in the future new drugs can be developed with fewer side effects than the immune-suppressing drugs that are currently available.
Of course if you are carrying more belly fat than you desire or is good for you then a healthy diet and exercise is recommended. According to the Australian government's Measure Up campaign, "people often don't realise the impact that excess weight around the waist can have on their overall health and wellbeing."
"A high waist measurement can mean an increased risk of lifestyle related chronic diseases. A waist measurement of greater than 94cm for men or 80cm for women is an indicator of internal fat deposits, which can coat the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas, and increase the risk of chronic disease."
The national Measure Up campaign provides easy to follow tips and guidelines to help individuals decrease risk of chronic disease by reducing their waist measurement.
Measure Up is at www.measureup.gov.au
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