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Understanding Beer Bellies: Causes, Health Risks, and Effective Management Strategies

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For many men, having a beer belly seems like a necessary evil. They enjoy drinking with their friends or unwinding with their favourite brew now and again, so what’s the harm if they have a bit of extra weight around the middle? Medically speaking, excess weight around the abdominal area can be a risk factor for a heart attack, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and even erectile dysfunction [1].

Beer bellies are composed of visceral fat, which is stored deep inside of the body and causes the stomach to protrude. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which you can see and feel, visceral fat is much deeper and can be dangerous in large amounts [2].

A beer belly is not solely related to alcohol consumption. While it’s typically associated with drinking large quantities of alcohol, you can also develop a beer belly from eating too much sugar, trans fat, and refined carbohydrates can also contribute to one.

Why Does Alcohol Cause a Beer Belly?

Beer is full of empty calories. These calories lack any nutritional benefit but they still count toward your daily caloric intake. This can lead to unintended weight gain. The average beer has 200-250 calories, so drinking two to four in a day can tack on an additional 400 to over 1,000 extra calories in your diet.

Another reason alcohol causes visceral fat is due to the way your body processes alcohol. Because alcohol is a toxin, your body prioritizes burning it off rather than burning fat. Many alcoholic drinks are also high in sugar, which further fuels the development of abdominal visceral fat.

Why Are Men Prone to Developing a Beer Belly?

Where you gain weight depends on your age, sex, genetics, and activity level, but most men tend to store empty calories and excess sugar, carbs, and trans fat as belly fat. This could be due to their higher production of chylomicrons, lipoproteins that transport fat from the intestine to the liver and body fat [3].

Men naturally have a more muscular body composition whereas women tend to be softer and curvier. Most men are likely to be apple-shaped, meaning their bodies predominately store fat in the abdomen. Women have a tendency to be apple or pear-shaped, where fat is stored more in the lower abdomen, hips, thighs, and buttocks.

Women generally have a higher volume of body fat and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) compared to men, who have more lean mass and visceral adipose tissue (VAT). These differences can contribute to men gaining visceral fat around their mid-sections more quickly when they put on weight.

Why Is Upper Belly Fat Firm?

Subcutaneous fat is soft because it sits on the surface of muscle. Visceral fat is much deeper near the internal organs, which can cause it to feel firm on the outside. You can’t pinch or squeeze visceral fat the same way you can subcutaneous fat. Instead, the beer belly appearance is caused by a build-up of hidden fat that makes the abdomen extend outwards.

Visceral fat is firmer than subcutaneous fat because of its location near the organs. It is important in small amounts because it offers cushioning and protection; however, a build-up of excessive visceral fat can lead to harmful health effects.

Other Causes of Weight Gain Around the Stomach

Empty calories from alcohol is one cause of beer bellies. You can also gain weight around the stomach from:

  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Not exercising regularly
  • Smoking
  • Genetics

Nutrition is vital to maintaining a healthy body weight. Eating too many processed foods, consuming large amounts of sugar, and eating a lot of refined carbohydrates are common reasons for diet-related weight gain.

Lack of mobility is another major factor. Exercise helps regulate your body’s physiological processes, burn excess calories, and prevent weight gain. Smoking, however, can even offset exercise because nicotine can cause insulin resistance. Lung damage from tobacco consumption can also cause you to burn fewer calories when you exercise or exercise less often from discomfort [4].

Is Beer Belly Fat or Bloating?

Bloating can occur after eating or consuming alcohol, but it eventually goes away on its own. Beer belly is an accumulation of visceral fat around the abdominal organs. The only way to get rid of it is to perform regular exercise, eat well, limit alcohol and tobacco intake, and lose weight overall.
While many people promote belly fat exercises, the truth is that there is no singular exercise that can make you lose weight in one part of the body. Weight loss occurs all over, so the only way to lose unwanted stomach fat is to reduce your caloric intake and exercise more.

If you notice boating after drinking alcohol, this is not uncommon. Alcohol triggers inflammation in the body, which can lead to a bloated appearance. However, a beer belly does not reduce on its own, and it is tied to fat rather than temporary effects of alcohol inflammation.

Health Risks Associated With Beer Belly

Visceral fat increases the risk of many health conditions, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer (colorectal, pancreatic, and gastroesophageal)
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Lower back pain
  • Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or having a stroke. In men, a waistline measurement of 40 inches or more is associated with a greater risk of health problems [5].

Effective Ways to Treat Weight Gain and Beer Belly

Lifestyle changes are the most effective way to lose weight and reduce beer belly fat. Exercising more, eating healthy foods, and limiting snacking to reduce calorie consumption can have long-term benefits on your mind and body.
If you struggle with a beer belly, you should also look into reducing your alcohol consumption. Could you switch to mocktails instead? Make your own with less sugar to enjoy a refreshing drink without the added calories or weight-inducing sweeteners.

Exercising can be a challenge for many, but consistency is key. Even working out 15 minutes a day to start adds up to 105 minutes per week. Compared to working out 30 minutes three times a week for 90 minutes total, you can an additional 15 minutes toward your ideal weight.

Eating healthier also requires scaling back on sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods. Check nutritional labels to learn what you’re eating. Even some foods that seem healthy because they’re labeled as low-sugar or plant-based still have a lot of preservation, high sodium, and high fat contents.

You may also consider working with a personal trainer or nutritionist who can help you meal prep and learn more about how to fuel your body. They can also help you customize exercises to make them more accessible and enjoyable if you struggle with traditional cardio or workouts.

Alternative Treatments

For some people, managing their appetite on a typical diet is ineffective. If they have a high BMI, then they may be able to take weight loss medications to suppress their appetites. The two most popular options are Ozempic and Rybelsus. They are both made of the same drug: semaglutide. The key difference is that Rybelsus is an oral tablet and Ozempic is taken as a subcutaneous fat injection.

Semaglutide helps people lose weight in several ways:

  • It mimics the GLP-1 hormone, which your gut releases after eating, which allows people to feel fuller for longer.
  • It suppresses appetite, so people are less likely to overeat.
  • It slows the movement of food out of the stomach.
  • It targets the areas of the brain that affect hunger, appetite, and fullness.

By reducing cravings and improving satiety levels, Ozempic and Rybelsus allow people who struggle to control their eating habits gain control over their appetites. They are not meant to be taken permanently; instead, they help complement weight-loss efforts to help you reach your goal.

It is important to note that Rybelsus, Ozempic and alcohol may interact. It can impact blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous for individuals with diabetes. While there are no clear connections between semaglutide and alcohol, it is important to remember that alcohol affects liver function. This can have a negative affect on your body’s ability to metabolize medications.

If you are considering semaglutide, it’s important to speak with a qualified healthcare provider. Your doctor can explain the pros, cons, risks, and potential benefits of weight loss medication based on your medical history. They can also recommend lifestyle changes and let you know what to avoid when taking any medication.

Conclusion

Your health is important, and losing weight is really all about moving toward a healthier version of you. When considering the best way to reduce a beer belly, you should consider more than just alcohol consumption. Take your overall lifestyle into account, including your diet, average calorie intake, and exercise level. Then, speak with a doctor who can help you make informed decisions to set weight loss goals and work toward them one step at a time.

Remember, sustainable lifestyle changes are the best way to lower visceral fat and reduce health risks. Rather than look for quick-fixes based on appearance, learn more about health and nutrition, so you can be motivated to keep up healthy habits for a lifetime.

Sources

1. https://www.piedmont.org/living-real-change/beer-belly-the-truth-revealed

2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24147-visceral-fat

3.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31866877/#:~:text=These%20mechanisms%20perhaps%20explain%20why,men%20their%20apple%2Dshaped%20body

4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/does-smoking-cause-weight-gain

5. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/risk.htm

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This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.

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