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Visceral Fat: The Dangers Run Deeper Than You Think

  • February 3, 2020
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Oftentimes, the desire to reduce body fat has to do with goals such as feeling and looking better. Yet, we also know that controlling body fat plays an important role in promoting long-term health. In particular, visceral fat is especially dangerous and is associated with serious risk factors if left unaddressed.

Unlike the fat you can pinch, which is found just below the skin, called subcutaneous fat, visceral fat runs deeper. In some cases, it’s therefore less noticeable from the outside – but actually more important to manage for long term health.  Discover what you need to know about this type of fat below.

What Is Visceral Fat?

As mentioned above, visceral fat is located deeper in the body than subcutaneous fat. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which can be found all across the body, visceral fat is concentrated to the abdominal cavity. It’s therefore located close to the body’s vital organs, including the stomach, liver, and intestines. It’s so close to the liver, in fact, that the organ can turn it into cholesterol​. Once that happens, the fat enters the bloodstream and accumulates along the artery walls, leading to their hardening and narrowing, known as atherosclerosis.

As you might imagine, this makes visceral fat especially dangerous. Discover just how deep the danger runs below.

Why Is Visceral Fat Dangerous?

Whereas subcutaneous fat is often addressed due to cosmetic concerns, visceral fat is the type most linked to health concerns, including an increased risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Breathing issues

Moreover, regardless of body weight, this fat is also associated with an increased risk of premature death. In fact, research has shown that women who were considered to have a normal body mass index yet had a larger waistline had an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease​. Visceral fat is therefore often a sneaky, overlooked health issue, as it could go unnoticed when physicians follow conventional body weight standards.

Known as a biologically active fat, visceral fat disrupts the normal balance of hormones. It also has an inflammatory effect, as it releases the immune system chemicals known as cytokines, which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cytokines are also believed to have negative effects on blood clotting, cells’ sensitivity to insulin, and blood pressure levels.  With these harmful effects, it comes as no surprise that carrying excess visceral fat is linked to the diseases listed above, in addition to stroke, heart attack, breast and colorectal cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Some experts suspect another reason visceral fat is so dangerous is because it’s closely located to the portal vein, the key pathway through which blood travels from the intestinal area to the liver. Free fatty acids and other substances released by visceral fat can therefore make their way into this vein and to the liver, where they can impact blood lipids, and subsequently, total cholesterol and insulin resistance.

How Visceral Fat Develops

Unfortunately, the root causes behind visceral fat development are numerous. There are a few potential issues at play, outlined below.

  • One thing visceral fat does have in common with excess subcutaneous fat is that it can result from the same root causes, including the ratio of calories you take in versus burn through activity and exercise. Consuming too many calories coupled with too little activity is likely to cause weight gain, including in the abdominal area.
  • Visceral fat is also influenced by age; as muscle mass decreases and fat increases, it can be more challenging to keep this type of fat off. While visceral fat increases in both men and women with age, it picks up at a more alarming rate in women, nearly quadrupling between the ages of 25 and 65.
  • Changing hormone levels can also be responsible for an accumulation of belly fat. In women, for instance, fat accumulation in the abdominal region can take place even if weight gain is avoided elsewhere, which is likely due to the decline in estrogen that influences fat distribution.
  • Finally, genetics may play a role in a person’s likelihood for developing visceral fat. Experts believe there may be a hereditary component to an individual’s odds of having an “apple” versus “pear” body shape, for instance.

Regardless of its cause, however, addressing visceral fat is a critical aspect of improving your current health and promoting future wellness. Yet, in order to address it, you need to be able to tell whether you have it in the first place.

Do You Have Visceral Fat? How Can You Tell?

CT and MRI scans are some of the only ways to provide a definitive diagnosis of visceral fat. Fortunately, however, the following methods are some other ways you may be able to tell whether you could have an excess concentration of visceral fat:

  • Body shape: Individuals referred to as “apple” shaped – with slimmer legs and a larger trunk – often have more visceral fat. This body type is more commonly seen in men, as women are often pear-shaped, with larger hips and thighs.
  • Waist measurement: In general, women who have waistlines of 35 inches or more and men whose waists measure 40 inches or more are believed to have higher concentrations of visceral fat.
  • BMI: This measurement calculates your weight relative to your height and is often the benchmark physicians use to identify patients who are overweight or obese. While online calculators are available to help you determine BMI, keep in mind that these numbers don’t account for factors such as muscle mass.  BMI also doesn’t account for visceral fat and is more of a way to see if a person is likely too fat (generally) and increases the likelihood for more visceral fat.
  • DEXA Scan: The dual X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan uses two beams which run through the body to measure composition, including bone density. It is also FDA approved for quantifying levels of visceral fat.

In general, talking to your doctor about your concerns for visceral fat is a good place to start. Here at Cenegenics, our team can help you learn more about your visceral fat risk from the moment you join our program, as we provide patients access to DEXA scans, among other innovative technologies leveraged in our Elite Health Evaluations.

You Can Get Rid of Visceral Fat

Unfortunately, restricting your calories and increasing exercise alone are often insufficient for getting rid of visceral fat. Instead, this stubborn fat requires a more tailored approach, and often, the guidance and expertise of clinical experts.

Because it’s not just excess weight but actually an active fat, visceral fat warrants specific interventions. Experts acknowledge that dietary changes alone aren’t enough for addressing deep belly fat. In fact, research has shown that restricting calories didn’t work to remove belly fat in study participants, but combining diet with consistent exercise showed results.  Thus, it’s not simply how much we eat, but also what we eat, that plays a role in visceral fat development or loss.

In particular, monitoring saturated fats and removing harmful trans fats is recommended for tackling visceral fat. Sources of these fats include packaged snacks and desserts, fried food, and other heavily processed foods.

Similarly, certain types of exercise may also be more effective for combatting this type of fat. Moderate exercise is recommended. For some, this could be brisk walks, taken at least six days a week, while others can incorporate high intensity interval training programs for as little as 15-20 minutes, three day a week.  Yet, aerobic exercise also needs to be coupled with resistance training for belly fat to budge. While strengthening exercise may not always lead to significant changes on the scale, it can lead to big changes in visceral fat concentration. Combining aerobic exercise with strength has also been shown to reverse some characteristics of metabolic syndrome, including:

  • Blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
    It also offers a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Of course, as with any approach to weight loss​, certain individuals may respond to different tactics better than others. For this reason, it’s best to work with an experienced team with knowledge in not only visceral fat, but also exercise and nutrition, for a comprehensive yet individualized approach to addressing belly fat.

Take Control of Your Visceral Fat with Cenegenics – In Conclusion

Losing overall fat may help to address concerns like body image issues, but addressing visceral fat is the key tactic that can help you optimize your health not only now, but also into the future. Of course, pursuing any weight loss goals can seem a bit daunting at first. Fortunately, these goals become much more achievable when you have the expertise and support of the Cenegenics team behind you.

Oftentimes, you’ll find Cenegenics reviews that highlight the ways in which our team has helped adults lose – and maintain – weight as they age. Because visceral fat is an issue which becomes an increasing concern with age, it should be tackled by a clinical team that understands the changing needs of adults through the decades. And, there’s no group better suited for that than Cenegenics.

Whether you’re curious about Cenegenics’ cost, how we can help you lose weight and keep it off, or the many perks of our program, don’t hesitate to contact the center nearest you for more information.