The days of chugging beers, doing keg stands, and playing beer pong may all be in the past, but its effects are just beginning to catch up with you. Your years of beer drinking have morphed your six-pack abs into a pot belly, and it ain't pretty.

Beer doesn’t necessarily lead to belly fat. The consumption of too many calories — a single beer contains about 150 calories — is what turns your trim waistline into a belly that hangs over your pants. However, alcohol does have an association with midsection fat. The liver prioritizes burning alcohol before metabolizing fat, according to Columbia Health, which leads to more fat stored in the body through the process of fat sparing.

Visceral fat, concentrated fat found between your organs in the belly region, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Alcohol facilitates the growth of subcutaneous fat, found just under the skin, and visceral fat, which contributes to abdominal obesity. A waistline over 35 inches for women and over 40 inches for men can put both at high risk for visceral fat-induced diseases, says Harvard Health.

It’s time to stop being Beercules, learn the dangers of a beer belly, and show off your abs.

1. Belly fat is the most dangerous type of fat.

Belly fat is considered the most dangerous type of fat, known as visceral fat, which is associated with a high risk of disease, especially heart disease. Visceral fat can go unnoticed since it’s found around the organs such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines. However, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help doctors see the inside of the abdomen to determine the amount of visceral fat a person is carrying.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found central obesity was directly associated with mortality in those with coronary artery disease. Normal and high BMI was not found responsible for this increased risk. This suggests belly fat is actually worse than being overweight.

Dr. Vincent Pedre, an internist at his own private practice Pedre Integrative Health and the author of the upcoming book Happy Gut, says the intra-abdominal fat (around the organ) is inflammatory. “This type of inflammation leads to the most dangerous chronic diseases: diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Pedre told Medical Daily in an email.

2. Belly fat can lead to metabolic syndrome.

A noticeable beer belly is a strong indicator a person is more likely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Belly fat secretes inflammatory signals, which is the gateway to this condition. “These signals interfere with the effects of insulin,” says Pedre, “in the peripheral tissues, including the muscles.” Once the body becomes more and more resistant to the insulin signal, the person will develop metabolic syndrome. This condition is associated with a group of negative symptoms that inhibits the body’s ability to consume and store energy effectively.

3. Belly fat compromises your heart health.

The rise of BMI, especially belly fat, is associated with a high risk of coronary heart disease, causing plaque build-up in the arteries. This debilitates the heart’s ability to receive blood and oxygen. A beer belly can double the risk of heart disease of any form.

A 2014 study published in the journal Cardiovascular Imaging found adults with deep belly fat were significantly more likely to have greater heart risks than their non-belly fat counterparts, regardless of their BMI. In other words, two people with the same height and weight could have a different risk for heart disease based on how much deep belly fat they carry. Regardless of BMI, it’s essential to evaluate the risk of heart disease by assessing a person’s belly fat first.

4. Belly fat can limit your brain power.

A growing belly can actually shrink your brain. The protein that metabolizes fat in the liver is the same protein found in the brain that is responsible for memory and learning, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Cell Reports. Belly fat actually depletes this protein both in the liver and brain.

Pedre speculates people with beer bellies could face a higher risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s due to lifestyle habits. “We are learning that [Alzheimer’s] is actually a type of insulin resistance in the brain. Alzheimer's is coming to be called type 3 diabetes,” he said. “We have also found that exercise is one of the best interventions for preventing dementia.”

People with beer bellies tend not to exercise as much in comparison to their more fit counterparts, and therefore may face a higher risk for both dementia and Alzheimer’s.  

5. Belly fat can cause erectile dysfunction.

Men who pack a gut may not be packing much in their nether regions when it comes to sex. Excess belly fat can affect sexual function by interfering with the body’s ability to supply blood to the penis, and therefore leads testosterone production to plummet. This is because the same belly fat also produces an enzyme called aromatase. Pedre says, “This enzyme converts testosterone to estrogen in a one-way pathway.” Therefore, belly fat is actually reducing the male’s testosterone levels, which can lead to gynecomastia (breast formation) and erectile dysfunction.

6. Belly fat can increase breast cancer risk for both men and women.

Both men and women are at risk for breast cancer if their gut carries more than it can handle. Higher levels of belly fat and body fat produce an enzyme that coverts testosterone to estrogen. In other words, the more body fat, the higher the estrogen levels in the body.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found body fat distribution is associated with an increased risk for estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. This is because estrogen feeds breast cancer cells. “Estrogen is a growth signal for breast cells, which eventually can lead to cells that become independent of other controlling signals and become cancerous,” Pedre said.

Remember, before you reach for that beer mug, think about the consequences of having more than just one drink.