Heart Fat – Is the fat around your heart increasing your heart disease risk?

You are probably familiar with the fact that an ‘apple’ body shape puts you at greater risk for heart disease. A new study published August 16th in the online edition of the journal of Radiology has found the fat around your heart may be an even stronger predicator of heart disease risk.

What is heart fat?

Heart fat, or pericardial fat, is hidden behind the rib cage in a pericardial cavity. It appears that pericardial fat releases proinflammatory markers which promote irregular build-up of plaque along coronary artery walls. This plaque build-up leads to atherosclerosis which can result in a heart attack.

Pericardial fat volume is linked to being overweight or obese. The more excess fat you carry, the greater your risk of having high levels of pericardial fat.

The 183 participants of this study were from the community-based Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). All participants were symptom free, meaning they did not show or experience symptoms of heart disease, but the majority of participants were overweight.

How is heart fat linked to heart disease?

The study identified three main results:

  1. The amount of fat around the heart is closely linked to artery clogging plaque levels for individuals experiencing no symptoms of heart disease.
  2. Pericardial fat appears to be a better determinant of coronary artery plaque build-up than waist circumference and body mass index.
  3. Heart fat scans may be a useful assessment tool for determining heart disease risk.

What can you do?

This is a new area of study and not likely to be a procedure offered by your local doctors office. However, it is possible that a CT scan of your heart may be used in the future to assess heart fat levels.

What I want you to take away from this study is how evident it is that extra weight will shorten your life. Carrying excess body weight puts you at increased risk for so many health complications, and additional heart fat leading to increased levels of coronary artery plaque is just one more.

If you are overweight or obese it’s not too late to start losing weight and improving your health. Start now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.

All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD