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Abdominal Fat: Health Risks and 10 Effective Treatment Options

Abdominal fat is more than a nuisance that makes your clothes feel tight. It puts you at risk of fatal diseases and may shorten your lifespan. Related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart diseases commonly affect those with high body fat. Hence losing belly fat is worth serious consideration for its massive health benefits and for total well-being.  There is a difference in what is considered as “normal” belly fat for men and women and if the measurement are above the normal rate, abdominal diseases can occur at any stage of life.

Defining abdominal fat

Abdominal fat or known better as belly fat is a serious matter when it has build up excessively in your body. Besides diet, belly fat can be due to other factors like your genes or your stress levels.

What is visceral fat?

There are several types of body fat (read more HERE). Visceral fat is a type of body fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity. It’s located near several vital organs including the liver, stomach and intestines. Research has shown that this type of fat plays a distinctive and potentially dangerous role affecting how our hormones function. Storing higher amounts of visceral fat is associated with increased risks of a number of health problems including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer.
Visceral fat can’t be seen by the eyes, and hence people with a thin body may be at risk too, as it is not limited to the plus-size only.

Causes of body fat in men and women

It is easy to determine if your belly fat are at disturbing levels or otherwise. Start by measuring your waist circumference with a tape measure. If the measurement is above the guide, you are at risk of abdominal obesity.

Men : Anything above 40 inches (102 cm)
Women : Anything above 35 inches (88 cm)

There are different ways how body fat affects men and women. Some are lifestyle related while for others, can be due to inherited genetic and mental stress. Whatever the reason is, here are a few factors that cause excessive abdominal belly fat in your body.

1. Poor diet

High intake of sugary food and drinks such as cakes, candy, soda and fruit juices are one of the major factors that contributes to the development of excessive belly fat. It does not mean that these food should never be consumed, but the key is to adopt a balance diet. Bear in mind that such food causes weight gain, slows metabolism and reduces the body’s ability to burn fat.

2. Too much alcohol

Excessive amount of  alcohol consumption can cause a variety of health problems including liver disease and inflammation. In 2015, a report on alcohol consumption and obesity in the journal of “Current Obesity Reports” shows that men are more likely to gain weight around the bellies than women.

3. Lack of exercise

If a person consumes more calories than they burn off, they will put on weight. The stored fat for someone with an inactive lifestyle is harder to get rid of, particularly around the abdomen, since the fat are not being used to burn into energy.

4. Stress

A steroid hormone known as cortisol helps the body control and deal with stress. When an individual is in a dangerous or high-pressure situation, his/her body releases cortisol and this can impact his/her metabolism. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, and stimulates insulin release and maintenance of blood sugar levels. The end result of these actions can be an increase in appetite and can cause cravings for sweet, high-fat, and salty foods. Hence in such situations, an individual under duress usually reaches for comfort from food. Some studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area rather than in the hips

5. Genetics

Scientist believes that genes can influence the behaviour, metabolism and risk of developing obesity-related diseases. It determines whether a person more likely to become an obese or otherwise. Similarly, environmental factors and behaviour also determine the risk of the excessive build up in the abdominal area.

6. Poor sleep

A study in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has proven that short duration of sleep are causing weight gain and the excess of belly fat. Not getting enough sleep potentially leads to unhealthy eating behaviours such as emotional and binge eating. People tend to make up for the tiredness from the lack of sleep by eating more.

7. Smoking

There has been some studies that correlates smoking to abdominal fat. It is deemed that smokers are more likely to have more belly and visceral fat than non-smoker.

Health risks for abdominal fat

The below lists some of the diseases that associated with the risk of having excessive belly fat:

Heart disease

It is a term in reference to any disorder of the heart. Coronary heart disease, arrhythmia and myocardial infarction are some examples of heart diseases. The most common symptoms include chest pain, breathlessness, and heart palpitations. The chest pain occurs naturally occurs when a part of the heart does not receive enough oxygen, resulting in many types of heart disease such as angina or angina pectoris.

Heart attacks

A heart attack is the death of a segment of heart muscle caused by a loss of blood supply. The blood is cut off when an artery supplying blood is blocked by a blood clot. The symptoms of a heart attack can sometimes resemble indigestion, heartburn and a stomach ache as well as a heavy feeling in the chest. Other symptoms of a heart attack includes pain that travels through the body (starting from the chest to the limbs, back, abdomen, or jaw), lightheadedness, profuse sweating, nausea and shortness of breath and restlessness.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure causes serious damage to the blood vessels. This damage results in a range of complications such heart failure, vision loss, stroke, kidney diseases and more. Most people with high blood pressure will not experience any symptoms, which is why hypertension is often called the “silent killer.”


Strokes are brain attacks which occur when the blood supply to the brain are blocked. During a stroke, the brain fails to receive sufficient oxygen or nutrients, causing brain cells to die. A stroke usually occurs without a warning but some common symptoms to watch out for includes confusion, trouble in  speaking and understanding, headaches with altered consciousness or vomiting, numbness or inability to move parts of the face, arm or leg (particularly on one side of the body), vision problems with one or both eyes and lack of limbs co-ordination.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, causes by irregular production of insulin. It can affect anyone at any age. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the movement of blood, glucose or sugar into cells which then converts it as a source of energy. When glucose fails to enter cells, too much glucose are left in the blood. Thus, the cells in the body cannot use them efficiently.

The symptoms tend to appear gradually for Type 2 diabetes. Symptoms to watch our for includes frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, infections and sores. Diabetes can lead to a number of serious complications. The sooner a person starts to manage their glucose levels, the better chance they have of preventing complications.


Asthma is a result of breathing at low lung volume where the muscles are tighter and the airway is narrower. The inside walls of the airways (bronchial tubes) become swollen or inflamed during the process and this makes the airways extremely sensitive to irritations and increases their susceptibility to an allergic reaction. The result of this reaction is the difficulty for air to move in and out of the lungs. The symptoms of asthma usually appear in periodic attacks or episodes of tightness in the chest, wheezing, breathlessness, and coughing.

Breast cancer

This is the most common invasive cancer in women. The death rate is the highest for women after lung cancer.The first symptom of breast cancer usually takes the form an area of thickened tissue in the breast (lump) or armpit. Other symptoms includes pain in the armpits or breast (does not change with the monthly cycle), redness of the skin of the breast, a rash around or on one of the nipples, discharge from a nipple (possibly with blood), a sunken or inverted nipple, a change in the size or shape of the breast, peeling, flaking or scaling of the skin on the breast or nipple. Most breast lumps are not cancerous. However, women should consider visiting a doctor for an examination if they notice a lump on any breast.

Colon cancer

Colon cancer develops when tumorous growths develop in the large intestine. Colon cancer does not usually showing symptoms at the earliest stages. However, symptoms may become more noticeable as it progresses. The symptom includes diarrhea or constipation, changes in stool consistency, loose or narrow stools, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, cramping, bloating or gas, continual urges to defecate despite passing stools, weakness and fatigue, unexplained weight loss, irritable bowel syndrome and iron deficiency anaemia. Colon cancer can potentially spread to a new location in the body such as the liver.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer disease is the most common type of dementia. It is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. At first, the symptoms are mild but they will become severe over time. As symptoms worsen, it get increasingly difficult for the effected person to remember recent events, to reason, and to recognize people he/she knew. These are the five symptoms that confirms dementia: (1) decrease in ability to take in and remember new information, (2) impairments to reasoning, complex tasking and exercising judgment, (3) impaired visuospatial abilities (not because of eye sight problems), (4) impaired speaking, reading and writing, and (5) changes in personality and behaviour.
The confirmation of Alzheimer is the upgraded version of dementia.

Top 10 Treatment options

Now that we understand how abdominal fat affect our physical structure and internal health, here are top ten treatment options or good lifestyle habits to adopt to reduce our susceptibility to the risk of abdominal fat related disease.

Lifestyle Changes

In this category, there is a need to change in the way we eat, the way our routine shapes our day and the way we control our wants and needs.

1.Improve your diet

A healthy, balanced diet can help a person lose weight and is also likely to impart a positive effect on overall health. In general, avoid sugar, fatty foods, and refined carbohydrates that are low in nutritional content. Instead, consume plenty of vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates.

2. Increase your exercise

To lose weight one should include a good amount of exercise in his/her daily routine. Undertaking both aerobic exercise and strength training can help tackle belly fat. The most effective exercise is a combination of both cardiovascular and high-intensity training alongside weights and resistance training.

3. Improve your sleep pattern

The National Institutes of Health suggest seven to eight hours of sleep a night for adults. In a research study, it is found that most individuals that sleep 4.5 hours a night had higher levels of the brain chemicals. This will affect their appetite and their reward systems. They are more likely to eat more food between meals and are more prone to snacking to try to make up for the lack of focus and tiredness.

4. Take your stress levels down a notch

Tight datelines, bills, kids or any source of stress will make it harder for anyone to to shed their weight. Try any form of stress-release method such as yoga, listening to ASMR and therapy sessions, whatever that works for you, so you could manage the negativity better.

5. Try Intermittent Fasting

It’s an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and periods of fasting.  The variety of intermittent fasting consist of 24-hours fast once or twice a week, fasting everyday for 16 hours or eating all your food within an 8 hour period. According to a study, this method are proven to reduce 4-7% abdominal fat within 6-24 weeks. This is may be one of the most effective ways of losing weight and belly fat.

6. Quit smoking

Smoking is a risk factor for increased belly fat as well as many other serious health concerns. Quitting can significantly reduce the associated risk besides improving overall health.

Surgical treatment

In this category, we will learn about the treatment that can be done to our body in order to lose belly fat.

7. Abdominal wall surgery

Abdominal wall surgery is a procedure that improves the appearance of flabby, stretched-out abdominal muscles and skin. It is also called a tummy tuck. It can range from a simple mini-tummy tuck to a more extensive surgery. You can expect to stay in the hospital for 1-3 days after surgery. Your surgeon will remove fatty tissue and loose skin from the middle and lower sections of your abdomen to make it firmer and flatter. In extended surgeries, the surgeon also removes excess fat and skin from the sides of the abdomen. Your abdominal muscles may be tightened .

8. Liposuction

Liposuction is a surgical procedure that uses a suction technique to remove fat from specific areas of the body such as the abdomen, hips, thighs, buttocks, arms or neck. Liposuction also contours the abdominal area. You may be a candidate for liposuction if you have too much body fat in specific spots but otherwise have a stable body weight. This type of surgery are not recommended for those who overweight.

Non-surgical treatment

9. Coolsculpting

CoolSculpting is a non surgical body contouring procedure that freezes stubborn fat cells underneath the skin. Treated fat cells are crystallised (frozen), destroyed and over time your body eliminates these dead cells naturally. The result? A more sculpted you. Untreated areas will have no change in fat cell distribution.

10. Ultrasound Fat Cavitation

In this method, ultrasonic waves transform your fat cells into fatty acids. Your body can then dispose of those fatty acids. However, ultrasound cavitation isn’t technically a “fat loss” procedure. Liposuction targets fat more specifically. With ultrasound fat cavitation, you will measure your success instead by how many inches you lose after treatment. If you want a tighter, more toned look, this might be the right procedure for you.

Conclusion/ Final thoughts

There are no magic solutions to losing belly fat. Weight loss will require effort, commitment and perseverance. However, successfully adopting some or all of the strategies and lifestyle goals discussed in this article will definitely help you lose the extra pounds and help you cultivate a healthier, happy lifestyle!


Dr Hannah Lo Fui Jun - Dr Hannah Lo pic 1

Dr Hannah Lo Fui Jun

Dr. Hannah Lo Fui Jun is a certified aesthetic physician with over 8 years of experience in the field. She obtained her medical degree (MBChB) from the prestigious University of Birmingham in the UK and is a certified LCP by the Ministry of Health Malaysia. Dr. Hannah is a highly sought-after speaker, and she actively participates in ongoing academic studies to stay at the forefront of aesthetic medicine. Her commitment to education extends to being a trainer for the ELLANSE Train The Trainers program. With a strong presence on social media, Dr. Hannah engages with her audience, sharing insights and expertise to empower individuals on their aesthetic journey.

Dr. Hannah holds certifications such as the AAAM CERT and Medical Aesthetic Certificate, demonstrating her commitment to excellence in the field. Her area of expertise encompasses a wide range of treatments, including skin rejuvenation, facial aesthetics using injectables and fillers, and body contouring. Dr Hannah's particular interest lies in facial anti-aging solutions and post-partum women's health, reflecting her dedication to empowering patients throughout all stages of life.

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