Meet the fat that can no longer be ignored…
Greetings fellow health conscious people! Don’t get me wrong here, okay? Visceral fat IS NOT a newly discovered type of fat. It isn’t the latest fad on fat either. It’s been here all along. It’s the fat you can’t necessarily see from the outside. You may possess a lot of visceral fat and currently be thin and ripped, a Calvin Klein model (?), Jonah Hill or any other person out there. This is the fat that was ignored for a long time, and now, it wants your full attention. Let’s investigate…
What is Visceral Fat?
In human anatomy, the term viscera means internal organs. It follows that visceral fat means fatty tissue around your internal organs. This is adipose tissue specifically located inside your peritoneal cavity (where your tummy is located), and around your internal organs (liver, intestines, stomach, etc). Fat can also be located in your other body cavities (like thoracic cavity) and around other internal organs (like your heart). For this article, we’ll focus on the fat surrounding your internal organs inside your peritoneal cavity.
Visceral Fat IS NOT Synonymous with Subcutaneous Fat
Please don’t get confused. Visceral fat isn’t the same as subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is found just underneath your skin, while visceral fat is found hugging your internal organs. You might find the word hugging a bit cute (as opposed to strangling), but I assure you, there’s nothing cute about excess visceral fat once you read its harmful effects on your health. Visceral fat is much more of a threat to your health than subcutaneous fat. To paint a clearer picture, subcutaneous fat is the type of fat you can pinch (or grab) with your fingers (or entire hand).
Excess Visceral Fat: The Dangers are Real
Most of us accumulate a certain amount of visceral fat through the years. What’s harmful to our health is when it becomes excessive. How do you know it’s excessive? Well, often excessive visceral fat is seen externally as belly fat. Clinically (what your doctor may call it), it’s identified as central or abdominal obesity.
Other common names include apple-shaped, beer belly and soda belly. But like we mentioned earlier you don’t need to have a protruding belly to have excess visceral fat hiding around your organs.
Below are some of the dangers you may experience if you have excess visceral fat:
1. Excess visceral fat is associated with different metabolic diseases.
Several studies have already established this. In addition, visceral fat increases your chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease. ( Read Our Article about metabolic syndrome. )
2. Women have a greater risk for breast cancer.
A study found that the visceral fat portion of the total body fat in women, increases their chances of developing breast cancer. In addition they found that sex hormone abnormalities were observed and recorded among the patients included in the study.
3. Visceral fat recruits a major player in favour of insulin resistance.
Scientists have recently identified a major player (a hormone) which works for your visceral fat. RBP4, short for retinol binding protein 4, is secreted by visceral fat cells and, is responsible for making your body cells ignore insulin. Subcutaneous fat also secretes RBP4, but in much smaller quantities. The more visceral fat you have, the greater the levels of RBP4 in your system. This relationship is so strong that researchers are now trying to create a blood test for this molecule so that doctors can determine a patient’s level of visceral fat.
4. The excess visceral fat cells act as endocrine cells.
This means they release a variety of hormones and other compounds which have widespread effects in the body. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what these hormones are and the ways they affect your body. The sad thing is, they mess with the normal release of your other hormones. Imagine an army of foreign hormones ready to invade and interfere with the normal functions of your organs.
5. Excess visceral fat also interferes with your immune system.
Even your immune system isn’t protected from the negative effects of excess visceral fat. The active and mischievous fat cells release biochemicals called cytokines. Interleukin 6 and tumour necrosis factor (TNF) are examples of these chemicals and both can increase your chances of acquiring heart disease. Other biochemicals can also increase your likelihood of forming blood clots or developing high blood pressure, and can make your body cells insensitive or unresponsive to insulin. Grr.
6. Women are more prone to developing gallstones (gallbladder stones).
Sorry ladies, but excess visceral fat makes your gallbladder excited and it produces more stones. Being overweight (obese) is also a well recognised risk factor for developing gallstones in both men and women. Excess visceral fat was also independently linked to the development of gallstones.
7. Excess visceral fat strangles your portal vein.
Your portal vein drains blood coming from your intestines and dumps it into your liver. Before this vein enters your liver, it’s surrounded (or strangled if in excess) by visceral fat. The visceral fat cells secrete a multitude of substances which can increase triglycerides and blood glucose levels, while reducing HDL (good cholesterol).
8. Excess visceral fat worsens the health of people suffering from colorectal cancer.
As mentioned before, unidentified biochemical substances are released from these fat cells. In addition to having hormone-like actions, they also have the ability to cause chronic inflammation. One study even found an association between visceral fat and the development of intestinal cancer.
9. People with excess visceral fat are more likely to develop dementia.
Dementia is defined as a loss of mental abilities. If severe enough, this can render you dependent on others and incapable of taking care of yourself. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the causes of dementia. Researchers have found that people with excess visceral fat are approximately three times more likely to develop dementia in their 70s to 80s compared with people without excess visceral fat.
10. Visceral fat promotes inflammation of your airways.
The inflammation initiated by visceral fat can also promote inflammation in your airways. Inflammation floods your airways with secretions making it difficult for you to breathe air into your lungs. It also makes your airways hyperactive (extra sensitive) leading to asthma.
What You Can Do about Excess Visceral Fat
Don’t undergo liposuction.
Sorry my friend, this quick fix won’t help when it comes to visceral fat. Liposuction doesn’t remove visceral fat from inside the abdominal cavity.
Learn to relieve stress.
If you’re always stressed, your body is constantly pumped full of stress hormones (like cortisol). Stress hormones can initiate fat deposition around your internal organs. We can’t entirely avoid stress, but we can certainly minimise it. Do some relaxation or breathing exercises, or have a massage or simply a fun night out with a friend.
Smoking lights up your beer/soda belly.
Numerous studies have found a link between smoking and excess abdominal fat. Both of them work hand in hand at creating chronic inflammation. Let’s keep it simple, DON’T SMOKE.
Research found that those who sleep 5hrs or less each night stored more visceral fat over time. However having too much sleep each night may also have a negative impact on your visceral fat levels. So aim for 7-8hrs of quality sleep each night.
This can sound really annoying to some people with excess visceral fat. But planting yourself on the couch in front of the TV just won’t do. Help out with the dishes, walk the dog, whatever you do, just stay active. Both aerobic and muscle building exercise can help with excess weight and visceral fat. The added benefit of muscle building exercise is that it can also improve the insulin sensitivity of your cells. So we recommend mixing it up and aiming for 30 mins of moderate exercise each day.
Another annoying point to some people. To make it simple, eat real foods (as you find them in nature) and avoid foods that promote tummy fat. Foods that contribute to the accumulation of belly fat are: foods with added sugars including fructose-sweetened foods and drinks, foods containing refined or hydrogenated polyunsaturated vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates. These foods contribute to inflammation and excess fat deposition in the body.
The dangers of excess visceral fat and central obesity are in fact, real. Don’t just concentrate on your external appearance, give more attention to your internal organs and the fat surrounding them. That means taking more care with what you put into your body. Treat your body like a temple.