Just about every wellness publication out there warns against the health problems related to abdominal fat.

Even if you are otherwise healthy, carrying excess weight around your belly is risky. Extra abdominal fat is linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among other health concerns.

So why is it that not everyone gains weight around their midsection?

Who Gains Belly Fat?

Gaining weight around the abdomen is more common in men, and in women with PCOS who have excess androgens, like testosterone.

Insulin resistance, which is common in PCOS, causes fat to deposit around the abdomen. This really means that it accumulates around your internal organs: your liver, cardiovascular system, your pancreas, etc.

Excess belly fat is also found when other hormonal issues like high levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—are present. Hypothyroidism is also known to cause weight gain around the abdomen.

This type of weight gain is linked to chronic inflammation as well. Inflammation stresses and disrupts many body systems, and actually causes differences in physiology.

Related Post: Dairy Products, and Their Link to Insulin Resistance 

When inflamed, the immune system acts as if it is fighting a mild infection all the time. As you can imagine, being in this state chronically requires antioxidants and micronutrients. These nutrients are often used up more quickly because of the overactive immune system. They also act like sponges and sop up chemicals that cause the damaging oxidative stress that characterizes inflammation.

Selenium's Role in Oxidative Stress

This study (1) looked at an important micronutrient—one that few people even seem to know about: selenium.

Selenium is an essential element that is involved in defense against oxidative stress through one of the most important antioxidant defenses of the body, glutathione oxidase

The study, which involved 6440 men and 6849 women, aimed to determine whether waist circumference was a factor in selenium status. Overall, they determined that waist circumference (aka belly fat) correlated directly with low selenium levels.

They also found that women with a higher body fat percentage had lower selenium levels as well.

Interestingly, when they combined this outcome with body mass index, the correlation wasn’t as strong. This is likely because there may be very healthy women of a higher body mass index, i.e. those with more muscle or bone mass, who don’t actually have much belly fat!
This is yet another reason why body mass index is a terrible way to determine how metabolism impacts health.

Given how important selenium is to the body’s antioxidant functions, as well as thyroid gland and ovary function, these findings are quite significant.

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Other studies have linked low selenium levels to conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and thyroid diseases, including hypothyroid and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Infertility, cancer, and cognitive decline are among many other issues also linked to low selenium.

Truth be told, we’re not quite sure yet how extensive the the full range of issues associated with selenium deficiency may be, since so many areas haven’t been investigated yet!

Symptoms of Selenium Deficiency Include:

  • Being more susceptible to stress-induced medical complications due to “weakening” of biochemical processes in the body (ie: cardiomyopathy after a viral infection)
  • Low thyroid symptoms: fatigue, feeling cold, weight gain, goitre, depression, hair loss
  • Poor immune response to conditions like colds and flus

Other Risk Factors:

In addition to excess abdominal fat, you are more at risk for selenium deficiency if you:

  • Consume sugar, processed foods, deep-fried foods, and simple carbohydrates
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Adhere to a vegetarian diet: since selenium is high in meat/seafood, vegetarians may have low selenium levels unless they eat brazil nuts regularly
  • Live in an environment that has low selenium soil levels

References:

  1.  Zhong, Q.; Lin, R.; Nong, Q. Adiposity and Serum Selenium in U.S. Adults. Nutrients 2018, 10, 727.
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