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Belly Fat: More than Skin Deep

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is not just a cosmetic issue but a serious health concern. Research has shown that excessive belly fat increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers. In this article, we will focus on the underlying causes of belly fat and effective treatment options.

What is Belly Fat?

Belly fat is the fat that accumulates around the abdominal organs, such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines. This type of fat is different from the subcutaneous fat that is found just beneath the skin. Visceral fat is metabolically active and releases hormones and other chemicals that can affect the body's functions.

Causes of Belly Fat

Belly fat is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, diet, lifestyle, and hormonal imbalances. In functional medicine, we believe that the root cause of belly fat is often related to insulin resistance, inflammation, and gut dysbiosis.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance occurs when the body's cells become resistant to the hormone insulin, which is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. When cells are insulin resistant, the body produces more insulin to try to lower blood sugar levels. This excess insulin can lead to the accumulation of visceral fat.


Chronic inflammation is another underlying cause of belly fat. Inflammation can be triggered by a poor diet, stress, illness, and environmental toxins. When the body is in a state of chronic inflammation, it releases cytokines, which can promote the accumulation of visceral fat.

Gut Dysbiosis

Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the gut microbiome, which can be caused by a poor diet, stress, antibiotics, and other factors. When the gut microbiome is imbalanced, it can lead to inflammation, insulin resistance, and other health problems, including the accumulation of belly fat.

Dangers Associated with Belly Fat

Excessive visceral fat can weaken your organs and put stress on your back and joints. Some of the same health factors that cause belly fat can be worsened by the presence of belly fat - leading to a vicious cycle that can be highly detrimental to longterm health. Some of the greatest health risks that come with belly fat are found below:

Chronic Disease

Excessive belly fat increases the risk of developing chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

Hormonal Imbalances

Belly fat produces hormones that can affect the body's functions, including the production of estrogen in women. Excessive visceral fat can lead to hormonal imbalances, which can have a range of negative health effects.

Liver Disease

Excessive belly fat can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition in which fat accumulates in the liver. This can lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver, which can progress to cirrhosis and liver failure.


Belly fat produces inflammatory cytokines (those same tiny proteins released in response to inflammation), which can lead to worsened chronic inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

Insulin Resistance

Belly fat also produces hormones and chemicals that can cause insulin resistance. This can lead to high blood sugar levels and the development or worsening of type 2 diabetes.

Treatment of Belly Fat

Functional medicine takes a holistic approach to the treatment of belly fat, addressing the underlying causes and promoting overall health and well-being. Here are some effective treatment options for belly fat:


A healthy diet is crucial for the prevention and treatment of belly fat. A diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein, can help to reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, and promote a healthy gut microbiome.


Regular exercise, especially strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), can help to reduce belly fat by improving insulin sensitivity and increasing metabolism. Exercise also helps to reduce stress, which can contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance.

Stress Reduction

Chronic stress can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat. Stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, can help to reduce cortisol levels and improve insulin sensitivity.


Certain supplements can also be helpful for reducing belly fat. These include probiotics to improve gut health, omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation, and chromium and magnesium to improve insulin sensitivity.

Belly fat is a serious health concern that can lead to a range of negative health effects. Functional medicine offers a holistic approach to the treatment of belly fat, addressing the underlying causes and promoting overall health and well-being. By focusing on a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress reduction, and targeted supplements, we can reduce belly fat and improve our overall health.

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