Earlier this month, researchers at Boston University and Harvard reviewed three studies following more than 225,000 adults over age 50, for eight to 20 years, and showed that being even slightly overweight can increase your risk of dying by 6 percent, and in those who are obese, by a whopping 73 percent (Annals of Internal Medicine, April 3, 2017). The main causes of death are heart and lung disease and cancers, and the more overweight you are, the greater your chance of dying prematurely.
The authors explain the major flaw in an earlier study that appeared to show that being slightly overweight was healthful. That study had analyzed 97 studies that only measured participants’ body fat one time, so there was no way to see whether they had lost weight. It is common for people to lose weight when they are suffering from an illnesses that is going to be fatal, so any control group for testing the effects of being overweight on premature death has to exclude people who are now at normal weight only because they have lost weight from an illness that is going to kill them.
In contrast to the older study, this new study measured weight of participants many times, usually every year. The authors proved that the older study was flawed because in their new study, they showed that the highest death rates occurred in those who were previously overweight and then lost a lot of weight, because their weight loss was more likely to be caused by an illness.
Who is at Risk?
Two thirds of adult North Americans are at increased risk of dying prematurely because they are overweight. One third of U.S. adults are overweight and another third are obese (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). A 5’10” (1.78 m) male is usually considered to be overweight at 165 pounds (75 kg) and obese at 200 pounds (90.7 kg).
The people who are at increased risk for diabetes, heart attacks, certain cancers and premature death are usually the ones who store fat primarily in their bellies. Storing fat in your belly is a sign that you store fat primarily in your liver.
Everyone’s blood sugar rises after eating, and a high rise in blood sugar can destroy every type of cell in your body. To keep your blood sugar level from rising too high, your pancreas releases insulin into your bloodstream, and insulin lowers blood sugar by driving sugar from your bloodstream into your liver. If your liver is full of fat, it does not accept the sugar, which drives blood sugar levels even higher.
Having excess fat in your belly and liver is caused by:
- being genetically programmed by your parents tostore most of your fat in your belly, and
- eating a lot of foods that are high in added sugars and other refined carbohydrates such as white rice, bakery products, pastas and most commercial dried breakfast cereals.
All refined carbohydrates, particularly those with free sugars, cause a high rise in blood sugar. Your body tries to lower the high blood sugar by converting the excess sugar immediately into types of fat called triglycerides, which are shuffled from your bloodstream to your liver to cause a fatty liver.
If you can pinch more than two inches of fat under the skin next to your belly button, you are at increased risk for storing fat primarily in your liver and are also at increased risk for diabetes, heart attacks, certain cancers and premature death. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, and get a liver sonogram to see if your liver is full of fat, a signal that your blood sugar is already rising too high after meals.
If you have any of these markers of increased risk for premature death, you should immediately start a program to prolong your life. I think everyone should follow the same program, whatever your current state of health.
- Try to exercise every day (with the consent of your doctor).
- If you need to lose weight, I recommend Intermittent Fasting
- Keep your blood levels of hydroxy vitamin D above 30 ng/ml
- Follow an anti-inflammatory diet as closely as possible
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is a sports medicine doctor and fitness guru. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin has run more than 40 marathons and is now a serious tandem bike rider with his wife, Diana. His website is http://drmirkin.com/. Click to read Gabe’s full bio.