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It's liver fat, not belly fat, to fear

August 26, 2009 | 11:30 am

Belly In recent years, researchers have found evidence that fat accumulated in the abdomen appears more harmful than fat that cushions the thighs, arms or rear. This fat, called visceral fat, is thought to be active tissue that can raise the risk of insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease.

However, new research suggests it's not belly fat that's bad but, rather, fat that accumulates in the liver. The study compared obese people with elevated and normal levels of liver fat and determined that excess fat inside the liver was linked to the higher risk of metabolic problems. Researchers don't know why some fats, particularly triglycerides, accumulate inside the liver in some people but not others. But a protein that controls the transport of fatty acids from the bloodstream to various tissues is likely to be involved.

People with fatty livers should try to lose weight, the lead author of the study, Dr. Samuel Klein, said in a news release.

"Fatty liver disease is completely reversible," said Klein, of Washington University in St. Louis. "If you lose a small amount of weight, you can markedly reduce the fat content in your liver. In fact, even two days of calorie restriction can cause a large reduction in liver fat and improvement in liver insulin sensitivity."

The paper is published this week in PNAS Early Edition.

--- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

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