Authored by: Ram Wadehra, DO, FACC, Cardiologist

If you’re like many Americans, you probably carry some extra pounds around the middle. OK, probably a lot.

More than two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. Being obese increases your risk for a number of health problems, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

“Obesity is not just a cosmetic problem,” said Lourdes cardiologist Ram Wadehra, DO, FACC. “These extra pounds are harming your heart, even if there are no outward symptoms.”

Extra Large, Extra Work
When you gain weight, your heart has to pump more blood to meet the body’s needs. This increases blood pressure, which over time can cause the arteries to become thick and stiff. Plaque builds up inside the artery, further blocking blood flow and raising the risk for chest pain, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and other problems.

“Obese people are at particular risk for coronary artery disease,” said Dr. Wadehra. “They often have higher levels of triglycerides and LDL, or ‘bad,’ cholesterol, which clog the arteries.”

Eventually, the strain on the heart caused by high blood pressure may cause the heart to grow larger, weaken and work less efficiently.

Diabetes occurs when the body either doesn’t make or can’t use the hormone insulin properly to control blood sugar (glucose).

“When you’re heavy, your body can’t respond as well to the signals insulin sends. Your liver continues producing glucose, but your muscle and fat cells stop absorbing it to convert into energy, leaving excess in your bloodstream,” said Dr. Wadehra. “These high levels damage your heart, blood vessels and other organs.”

Additionally, one-third of obese Americans have metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that greatly raise heart disease risk. These include a large waistline; high triglyceride, blood pressure and glucose levels; and low HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.

Protect Your Heart
A recent study found that obese people who lost just 5 percent of their weight saw improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. To help guard your heart:

• Minimize sugar-laden drinks and carbohydrates in your diet. These foods cause spikes in insulin levels and promote fat storage in your body.
• Eat a diet of fruits and vegetables, lean and responsibly raised proteins.
• Routine exercise will help improve your energy, body shape and muscle tone.

“Talk with your doctor about how you can remove a heavy burden from your body, and your heart,” said Dr. Wadehra.