Visceral Fat: What you Need to Know

We store all excess calories as storage fat, which is intended for use in times of calorie restriction. Having a little fat on your body is perfectly normal, but one specific type of fat should be avoided at all costs: visceral fat. Located in the abdominal cavity and between our organs, this fat can also be deposited on the walls of our arteries and increase the risk of serious diseases.

Visceral, or abdominal, fat is a particular type of fat that lodges in the abdominal cavity and between our organs: intestines, liver, stomach. Not to be confused with subcutaneous fat, which can be stored anywhere and pinched with our fingers, visceral fat is not visible. Doctors consider 10% of our total fat to be visceral. One can also assess the total amount of abdominal fat through scans or MRI.

Types of Body Fat:

Oftentimes, we associate “body fat” with those extra pounds that envelop our body and that we can easily pinch with our fingers. However, from a scientific point of view, body fat is not all about this. There are two types of body fat found in humans:

  1. White Fat
  2. Brown Fat

Brown fat burns calories and is considered a very healthy fat, however, it is mostly found in infants and is only present in small amounts in an adult’s body. Conversely, white fat makes up most of our body fat and its amount increases with age. And the bad news is that white fat is also fat, which in excess can be harmful to our bodies. (1)

What is Visceral Fat?

Although the visible, soft fat, called “subcutaneous fat,” is usually the one that bothers us the most, the hard belly fat that has made its home between our organs is the one that threatens our health. Scientists have discovered that this famous “visceral fat” is biologically active and that it influences our metabolism and our hormonal balance. When present in large amounts, visceral fat not only increases cholesterol production, but also increases the risk of serious illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, and heart disease. (2)

Ideal Visceral Fat Rating:

Monitoring the visceral body fat levels is necessary, as this is the fat that is responsible for the sinister pathologies such as hypercholesterolemia, which prove fatal is not controlled. Hypercholesterolemia is one of the major reasons behind increased cardiovascular events and strokes in people. Controlling hypercholesterolemia is possible if one frequently monitors his or her body fat levels.

According to experts, the ideal amount of visceral fat you have depends on your body physique. In most cases, a body fat scale or an MRI scan is used by doctors to calculate the amount of visceral body fat in a person. Any rating below 13 on this scale concerning visceral body fat is termed normal. (3)

What Causes Visceral Fat?

Usually, visceral adiposity is caused by poor eating habits and being sedentary. However, there are many factors beyond your control that can promote the development of visceral fat. These include your genes, aging, and hormones. Visceral fat, for example, can increase after menopause. Stress also plays a key role. Studies have shown that stress can increase the chances of becoming obese from cortisol, a hormone released in response to periods of chronic stress. Cortisol causes increased visceral fat deposits and has been shown to increase appetite and preference for energy-dense foods. (4)

The most obvious clue of excess visceral fat is an “apple” shaped figure, in which your waist appears wider than your thighs. That’s why waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) measurement can be a useful tool in assessing your weight-related health risks.

Why body stores fat around organs?

Fatty tissue is distributed in the body depending on various factors. These factors include sex, genetic predisposition to obesity, age, and other things. Men tend to accumulate fat in the stomach (love handles, brioche). According to their genetic predisposition, the distribution of fat in women has two variants: one called “pear”, where fat accumulates in the pelvis and thighs (saddlebags); the other called “apple”, on the breasts, stomach, and hips.

The adipose tissue is an incredible reservoir of energy, more abundant than glycogen, but less effective and quick to use. If needed, the triglycerides in fat cells can be cut to form fatty acids and substances called glycerols. The fatty acids are transported in the blood to cells, where they are used to provide energy. Glycerols are taken up by liver and muscle cells where they are converted into glucose. This mechanism allows organs like the brain, which cannot burn fatty acids or glycerols, to benefit indirectly from this source of energy, even when glycogen reserves are depleted. Moreover, storing fat around the organs also “cushions” these organs from shock from the external environment, which is the major method of protection against trauma to the vital organs.

Why Visceral Fat Matters?

Before you start worrying about visceral fat, there is one thing you need to know: Having a certain amount of this fat is vital for your body since it protects your internal organs and allows your body to store energy that it can then use when you are sick or need to put in other physical efforts.

However, by losing the excess fat from your belly, not only will you feel fitter and more comfortable in your body, but you will also avoid serious physical strain. To reduce both your visceral fat and your subcutaneous fat over the long term, it is essential that you adopt a healthy and balanced diet, that you do not get too stressed out.

Dangers of Visceral Body Fat:

Inner belly fat is particularly metabolically active. This means that it forms messenger substances that influence various processes in the body. Among other things, these set inflammatory processes in motion, promote high blood pressure and promote insulin resistance. The more belly fat, the greater the risk of:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Metabolic diseases

In this context, researchers were able to show in a new study that body fat sometimes affects the metabolism so unfavorably that the lipid composition of the heart changes, and the heart is damaged. Obesity is therefore a major risk factor for heart failure. (5)

How can I tell if I have too much visceral fat?

Visceral fat can only be determined precisely with computed tomography (CT) or a magnetic resonance tomogram (MRI). However, since this is usually too time-consuming and costly, it is usually sufficient to check your diet and physical activity. If a patient does not do sport and has a very high-fat diet, a high percentage of body fat, including visceral fat, can generally be expected. According to a Harvard study, around 10% of a person’s total body fat is visceral. (6) To determine whether you should contact your doctor, you can also first consult the measuring tape.

Anyone who generally has a high percentage of body fat can assume that they also have too much visceral fat. To get rid of this, get more active by increasing your daily dose of exercise and eating a high-protein, low-fat diet. However, this does not mean completely without fat, but on the one hand to consume healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

When to Contact a Doctor?

Having too much body fat is very common nowadays. People seldom care about their eating and exercising routines, which only proves harmful as the fat keeps accumulating in the body. This is a hidden enemy because the increased amount of visceral fat contributes to increased cholesterol production in the body. this cholesterol then compromises the blood flow, which acts as an initiator of major cardiovascular events such as heart failure and strokes.

If you have a visceral fat rating of more than 13 on the body fat scale, it is recommended that you visit your doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will advise diet changes and cholesterol-inhibiting drugs if necessary.

How to Measure Visceral Body Fat?

Measuring visceral body fat has three methods. They are:

Waist Measurement:

A quick and easy method is to take your waist and hip measurements to measure your abdominal circumference. Dividing the waist measurement by the hip measurement after measuring them both results in a number. The result for a healthy body should be 1.0 for men and 0.85 for women. A good indicator of a high level of visceral fat is a high BMI (Body Mass Index) value and a strong waistline. If these two are together, you likely have a high visceral fat level.

Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) Scan:

The DXA (Dual X-ray Absorptiometry) or two-photon scanner is the reference method for measuring three compartments: fat mass, mineral mass, lean mass. It has been used for about 20 years for the detection of osteoporosis and more recently for the analysis of body composition. A measurement lasts about 3 minutes and gives access to imagery. The cost of measurement is relatively high and it gives rise to low irradiation.

This method is considered by the expert to be the most suitable one for measuring body composition. The participants are lying on an observing table, a machinic arm passes over the entire body of the subject, emitting a very fine beam of high and low energy X-rays (40 and 100 KeV). By measuring the absorption of each bundle in certain parts of the body, technicians can obtain measurements of bone mineral density, lean mass, and body fat. Additionally, since the machine scans individual body parts, the test can also break down body composition by limb. (7)

Bioelectric Impedance Analysis:

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis, also known as BIA (Bio Impedance Analysis), is the technology used by a large number of healthcare and sports professionals anxious to provide a detailed analysis of the body composition of their patients. The method consists of circulating currents of very low intensities through the body. These currents (multi-frequency technologies) will then pass through different tissues which will have different resistive qualities to currents. Fat is a very poor conductor of current, so the relative difference in the intensities of currents in different parts of the body can be used to estimate the total amount of fat in the body.

Consequently, all of the Bio-impedance devices calculate it by deduction as follows:

Fat mass = Weight – Fat excluding fat (total water, proteins, and minerals)

Hence the importance of giving it at constant hydration in the individual to avoid having fluctuations in this fat mass linked to different hydration on a person during a follow-up. (8)

The impedance evaluates the fat by measuring the resistance of the body to the passage of electrical currents of very low intensity. More and more gyms and fitness rooms are offering to assess fat stores using this method, and diagnostic scales have invaded department store shelves. However, this method is not reliable because it does not take into account the morphology of each person.

How can I lose the Visceral Body Fat?

Regular Exercise Eliminates Visceral Adiposity:

Maintaining a regular routine of exercise is the best way to eliminate the visceral fat from the body, as it combines a healthy diet with increased physical activity to build muscle mass at the expense of fat mass. Sport and rigorous physical activity on an empty stomach can eliminate fat faster, but combining this exercise with HIIT and other physical training techniques can get rid of visceral adiposity.

Balanced Diet can Help Decrease Fat:

Processed industrial foods and junk foods are notorious for being high in calories, as compared to other types of preparations. Favoring homemade cooking and a balanced diet, consisting in particular of good fats such as MUFAS and PUFAS, fiber, and fruits, can help you build your muscle mass and stimulate the body to burn fat efficiently.

Lifestyle Changes Make a Big Difference:

Cigarette smoking makes the body to a dangerous chemical known as nicotine. Nicotine, in addition to being one of the potential causes of diabetes, can also alter the hormonal balance in the human body significantly. Some of these hormones are responsible for the distribution of fat in the body. This means that smoking cigarettes can alter your body fat.

Alcohol, although very common nowadays, is of great importance as a healthy liver is vital to the fat metabolism occurring in the body. Reducing alcohol consumption has a positive effect on the fat metabolism of the human body. There are many significant sugars in alcoholic beverages, which translate to a lot of calories. Consumed regularly, these alcoholic beverages can lead to a rise in blood sugar levels and, consequently, to the formation of extra fat around the belly. (9)

Reducing Stress and Leading a Calm Life:

Getting enough sleep along with reducing the stress levels imposed on the body due to daily life tasks can also help you lose weight. Cortisol is the major hormone that is produced in our body from adrenal glands during times of stress. This hormone, apart from preparing the body to cope with stress, can also promote weight gain. For this reason, getting enough sleep is essential, as reducing sleep hours disrupts the hormonal system.

References:

  1. Types of Body Fat: Benefits, Risks, Diet, Body Fat Percentage & More. Healthline. (2021). Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  2. Visceral fat: What is it and how to lose it? | Tanita. Tanita. (2021). Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  3. Visceral fat: What it is, why it is dangerous, and how to lose it. Medicalnewstoday.com. (2021). Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  4. How to reduce visceral body fat (hidden fat). Healthdirect.gov.au. (2021). Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  5. Després J. P. (2007). Cardiovascular disease under the influence of excess visceral fat. Critical pathways in cardiology6(2), 51–59.
  6. Taking Aim at Belly Fat – Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. (2021). Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  7. Dexa (Body Composition Scan) | Jackson Hospital. Jackson Hospital |. (2021). Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  8. Bio-Electrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) – Body Mass Analysis. Doylestownhealth.org. (2021). Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  9. Traversy, G., & Chaput, J. P. (2015). Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update. Current obesity reports4(1), 122–130.

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