Smoking increases belly fat, among many other health dangers

By Staff 8 Min Read

  • Research has found that smoking can increase belly fat, regardless of other factors such as genetics and socioeconomic status.
  • Researchers said that smoking may also cause visceral fat, an unhealthy fat that is located deep within the abdomen and is associated with a number of health problems.
  • Experts says it is a myth that smoking can help you lose weight or stay trim.

Smoking may increase fat in the abdomen, especially the kind found deep within the abdominal cavity.

That’s according to research published today in the journal Addiction in which researchers report that starting smoking as well as a lifetime of smoking may increase visceral fat, an unhealthy fat that is associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia.

“We also found that the type of fat that increases is more likely the visceral fat, rather than the fat just under the skin. The influence of smoking on belly fat seems to happen regardless of other factors such as socioeconomic status, alcohol use, ADHD, or how much of a risk-taker someone is,” Dr. Germán Carrasquilla, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a press release.

“From a public health point of view, these findings reinforce the importance of large-scale efforts to prevent and reduce smoking in the general population, as this may also help to reduce abdominal visceral fat and all the chronic diseases that are related to it,” he added. “Reducing one major health risk in the population will, indirectly, reduce another major health risk.”

The researchers noted that people who smoke often have a lower body weight than people who don’t smoke, but they also have more abdominal and visceral fat.

Until now, it was unclear if the visceral fat in smokers was caused directly by smoking or other factors.

As part of their study, the researchers in Copenhagen used a type of statistical analysis to determine whether smoking increased abdominal fat.

They used results from different genetic studies to find if there was a causal relationship between smoking and an increase in abdominal fat, also referred to as abdominal adiposity.

They examined previous genetic studies in order to identify genes that are linked to the habit of smoking as well as body fat distribution.

From there, they used that genetic information to establish whether people who had genes that were associated with a smoking habit typically had a difference in the distribution of their body fat.

They also accounted for other factors such as socioeconomic background and alcohol consumption.

“Our study showed that smoking initiation and lifetime smoking may causally increase abdominal adiposity, as indicated by higher waist to hip ratio… While we found no evidence of an association between smoking heaviness and abdominal fat distribution, our reverse causal analysis indicated that higher abdominal adiposity may causally increase smoking heaviness,” the study authors wrote.

Dr. Jonathan Klein, a physician at Stanford University in California and a researcher in tobacco control, said the study adds important evidence to the understanding of the effects of tobacco and nicotine on abdominal fat.

“What they’ve done is sort of confirmed that, no, it’s not your genes, it’s not your family risk factors, this is actually directly attributable to smoking and the effect of tobacco and nicotine itself on the inflammatory pathways that lead to the abdominal fat,” Klein, who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

“From that perspective, it’s an important piece of evidence because often people say ‘oh, if you’re gonna be fat, if you have cardiac risk, that’s your lot in life.’ And there are genetic components to it, but this is very clear that regardless of that, this is still significantly because of tobacco and nicotine,” he added.

More than 28 million people in the United States smoke cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable diseases and death in the United States and kills more than 480,000 people every year.

Quitting smoking can be associated with weight gain and for some smokers this can decrease motivation to quit.

“At lower smoking rates, there is some evidence of appetite suppression from nicotine and increased metabolic rate. Hence why patients may/do gain wait when they stop smoking (due to increased appetite and lower metabolism),” Dr. Tyler Kjorvestad, a specialist in internal medicine and psychiatry at the University of Kansas Health Systems who wasn’t involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

“Nicotine is a very addictive substance and causes brief release of endorphins and subsequent increase in dopamine as well. Both of these activate our reward pathways in the brain and lead to nicotine users wanting to achieve that response again and again,” he explained. “Add to it the appetite suppression and increased focus/concentration/energy and you can see why it is a difficult medication to discontinue.”

Smoking causes harm to nearly every organ in the body.

Every year, smoking causes more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, firearm related incidents, and motor vehicle injuries combined.

Smokers are more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Smoking also causes diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, among other health problems.

Experts say it is a common misconception that smoking makes people slim.

“It’s not true that smoking makes you thin. And in fact, the image of thinness with smoking is one that’s been heavily promoted by the industry in some of their advertising. Many of the… people who appear in tobacco ads are actually thinner and more athletic than the average person in the population. So they’re selling the idea of fitness or health, rather than the reality of this increased fat that goes along with actually smoking,” Klein said.

“It isn’t that smoking makes you thin, it’s that when smokers try to quit, they sometimes gain weight. When people stop their addiction, they often find that they have more food cravings and it also is an oral activity and so people who are used to having their mouth busy often replace the cigarette or others tobacco behavior with food behavior,” he added.

Share This Article
Leave a comment