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The truth about beer and your belly

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Have years of too many beers morphed your six-pack abs into a barrel? If you have a beer belly, you are not alone. It seems beer drinkers across the globe have a tendency to grow bellies, especially as they get older, and especially if they are men.

However, is it really beer that causes a 'beer belly'? Not all beer drinkers have them - some teetotallers sport large ones. So what really causes men, and some women, to develop the infamous paunch?

What causes a beer belly?

It's not necessarily beer but too many calories that can turn your trim waistline into a belly that protrudes over your trousers. Any kind of calories - whether from alcohol, sugary drinks or oversized portions of food - can increase belly fat. However, alcohol does seem to have a particular association with fat in the midsection.

In general, alcohol intake is associated with bigger waists, because when you drink alcohol, the liver burns alcohol instead of fat.

Beer also gets the blame because alcohol calories are so easy to overdo. A typical beer has 150 calories - and if you down several in one sitting, you can end up with serious calorie overload.

Don't forget calories from the foods you wash down with those beers. Alcohol can increase your appetite. Furthermore, when you're drinking beer at a pub or party, the food at hand is often fattening fare such as pizza, burgers and fried foods.

Why does fat accumulate in the belly?

When you take in more calories than you burn, the excess calories are stored as fat. Where your body stores that fat is determined in part by your age, sex and hormones.

Boys and girls start out with similar fat storage patterns, but puberty changes that. Women have more subcutaneous fat (the kind under the skin) than men, so those extra fat calories tend to be deposited in their arms, thighs and buttocks, as well as their bellies. Because men have less subcutaneous fat, they store more in their bellies.

Beer bellies tend to be more prominent in older people because, as you get older, your calorie needs go down, you often become less active and gaining weight gets easier.

As hormone levels decline in men and women as they age, they're more likely to store fat around the middle. Menopausal women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) tend to have less of a shift towards more belly fat than those who do not.

Studies suggest that smokers may also deposit more fat in their bellies.

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