Visceral Fat: Why It Is Dangerous, & Tips to Reduce it - Sugar.Fit
Metabolic Health

Visceral Fat  And What To Do About It

The one place on our body that we all dread putting on weight is the abdomen. Unfortunately for us, it ends up being one of the areas in our body that is most prone to store or accumulate fat quickly but very hard to burn off. An additional cause for concern is that this abdominal obesity is not something that is seen due to an underlying illness or condition. A majority of the time we have ourselves and our unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle to blame for it.

When it comes to Type 2 Diabetes, Abdominal fat becomes very active and secretes a group of hormones called adipokines that impair glucose tolerance. Abdominal obesity also raises serum resistin levels, which in turn directly correlates to insulin resistance. Researchers have found that waistline adipose tissue is the foremost type of fat deposits that contribute to rising levels of serum resistin. Fortunately research also shows by losing that very abdominal fat, serum resistin levels also decrease rapidly.

What is Abdominal Obesity and why is it a matter of concern?

Abdominal obesity, also known as central obesity and truncal obesity, is when excessive abdominal fat around the stomach and abdomen has built up to the extent that it is likely to have a negative impact on health. Abdominal Fat is often called by many names like Belly Fat, Beer Belly, Paunch, Pot Belly etc. and is of Two Types : Subcutaneous and Visceral Fat. Compared to Subcutaneous Fat that lies just underneath your skin, Visceral Fat is a bigger concern since it is a known high risk factor for a variety of health issues.

Resistin is a protein found to be produced and released from adipose tissue to serve endocrine functions in our body. Studies show that Visceral fat contains and increases the amount of 'Resistin' in the blood. High Serum Resistin levels not only cause inflammation of the body’s tissues and organs but also narrows your blood vessels, resulting in several comorbid issues. Visceral Fat has been strongly linked to some serious medical conditions like Stroke, Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, High Cholesterol and even Alzheimer's. In Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance causes your body's muscle and liver cells to stop adequately responding to normal levels of insulin. This leads to Glucose levels rising in the blood heightening the risk for diabetes.

What is Visceral Fat?

Visceral fat is abdominal or belly fat that lies out of reach and deep within the abdominal cavity covering the spaces between our internal organs. It is the "active fat" surrounding abdominal organs and affecting the body's hormonal functions and associated with metabolic and chronic inflammatory diseases, giving it the moniker "dangerous fat tissue."

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What are the health risks of visceral fat?

Although both subcutaneous and visceral fats produce hormones, the latter is more likely to interfere with organ functioning due to its closeness to key abdominal organs such as the liver, gut, and pancreas. An increase in Visceral Fat increases the likelihood of acquiring chronic illnesses such as-

  • Type 2 Diabetes with Insulin Resistance
  • Blood Pressure Is Excessive
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Stroke and other Heart Conditions Risk

What is the Difference between Subcutaneous & Visceral Fat?

1. Subcutaneous Fat

Located between the skin and the outer abdominal wall. It is the jiggly, pinchable fat located just underneath the skin.

2. Visceral Fat

Stored inside the abdominal cavity and lies in the spaces between the abdominal organs, which is firm, hard and what is most popularly called a “Beer Belly”

Types of Abdominal Fat

How can we prevent Visceral Fat from accumulating?

1. Exercise

Exercise is the most effective way to shed off abdominal fat. The two most favorable types of exercises are  - Cardiovascular and Strength Training Exercises. This not only increases cardiac output, but also helps keep the body toned and in shape.

  • Cardio Exercises : Cycling, Aerobics, Swimming, Running
  • Strength Exercises : Pushups, Weight lifting, Squats

2. Stress

Excess abdominal fat accumulation is also a result of stress. When a person is nervous, their body releases a hormone called cortisol, which causes their body to store more visceral fat. According to some doctors, people with  elevated visceral fat levels can aim to reduce their stress levels. Meditation, deep breathing practice, and other stress-reduction exercises may be helpful and support abdominal fat loss.

3. Diet

A healthy diet includes a lower intake of salt, sugar, and refined foods, which will aid in weight loss and the removal of excess abdominal fat. Some ways to do that is -

  • Pay attention to portion size
  • Emphasize complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)
  • Avoid simple carbohydrates such as rice and sugary drinks.
  • Choose Fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose Lean proteins like Beans, Peas and Lentils.
  • Choose to cook your foods by Boiling, steaming, grilling, and baking instead of frying.
  • Choose Soluble fibres like nuts, seeds, barley,  sprouts, avocados, and oats.

How is Visceral Fat Diagnosed?

What do people make that you can’t see?

The right answer is Noise! But an equally acceptable answer would have been Visceral Fat!

While body fat that accumulates in the belly area may serve as an tell-tale indicator of visceral fat, you can’t see visceral fat with the naked eye. Visceral fat hides beneath the surface, surrounding your internal organs. Then how can we diagnose or measure Visceral Fat? There are multiple ways to measure visceral fat, but not all of them are practical or accurate.

1. CT SCAN / DEXA / MRI*

Although these modalities are the most reliable process to measure the Volume of Visceral Fat, they are not the most practical. They are cumbersome, time consuming, need specialized machinery, expensive or not cost-effective,  and would subject one to unnecessary exposure to radiation. *Computed Tomography, Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, Magnetic Resonance Imaging

2. BMI

Body mass index (BMI) has long been considered a helpful recommendation for self-assessing our weight. BMI involves weighing yourself (in kilograms) and dividing the result by our height (in meters squared). For Indians, a BMI of 23 or higher is considered can be indicative or a sign of visceral fat.

3. Waist Circumference

This is an easy way to estimate the presence and volume of visceral fat. To measure  your waist circumference, take a tape measure and wrap it around your waist over your belly button, without sucking in your stomach. The  normal waist measurement for women is up to 35 inches (80 cms) and around 37 inches (94 cms) for men. Anything higher indicates the presence of visceral fat.

4. Waist - to - Hip Ratio (WHR)

Unlike Body Mass Index (BMI) which is obtained by calculating the ratio of your weight to your height, Waist to  Hip Ratio measures the ratio of your Waist Circumference to your Hip Circumference. It is an easy, inexpensive, and accurate way to determine the amount and proportion of stored fat on the waist, hips, and buttocks. The  ideal WHR according to the WHO should be 0.9 or Lesser (for Men) and 0.85 or Lesser (for Women).

WHR in Men should be 0.9 or Less
WHR in Women should be 0.85 or Less

Several research studies have shown that WHR is an effective predictor of health risks, especially cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Some of the benefits of WHR in determining Health Risks even when the BMI is normal or moderate are-

  • A High WHR is linked to an increased risk of early death
  • Accurate tool for predicting Hypertension.
  • Decreasing WHR even by just 5%, significantly lowers the risk of Chronic Kidney Disease and Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
  • Useful as a gauge of obesity in older adults whose body compositions have changed.

How is visceral fat measured?

Without costly imaging testing, there is no way to determine where and how much visceral fat is hiding in your body. You're unlikely to need them.

Waist circumference : This is a quick approach to acquire a ballpark figure. Wrap a measuring tape around your waist, just above your belly button. (Avoid sucking in your stomach!) Visceral fat is defined as 35 inches or more in women. It's 40 inches for guys. Warning: This is a rudimentary tool, particularly if you are quite large. If you're of Asian origin, your visceral fat measurement reduces to 31.5 inches for women and 35.5 inches for males.

BMI: Body mass index is a formula that calculates how much you weigh in relation to your height. Online calculators may help you with the arithmetic. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 30 or greater. That might be an indication of visceral fat. A BMI of 23 or above may be cause for worry if you are Asian American.

Hip-to-waist proportion: You take your waist size and divide it by your hip size. Some specialists believe the number accurately predicts your chance of developing visceral fat. However, research indicates that it may be no better than a conventional waist measurement.

Body type : Examine yourself in the mirror. The location of your body's fat storage might provide a hint. If you have a large torso and thinner legs, you may have more visceral fat. This body type is more prevalent in guys. Women are more likely to be pears, meaning they have larger hips and thighs. According to research, upper body fat is more detrimental to your health, which might explain why women live longer lives than males.

Imaging examinations : These costly scans are the only method to determine how much visceral fat you have. If your doctor orders a CT scan or an MRI to rule out other medical problems, they may also acquire a thorough image of your visceral fat.

What Causes Visceral Fat to accumulate?

There are multiple factors that could be contributing to the body organs storing visceral fat.

1. Excessive Energy Intake  

This is the most crucial cause for fat storage. When we consume carbohydrate-rich food, we are force-feeding or overloading our body with glucose or energy. This excessive energy has no choice but to transform itself into fat and get stored in our tissues. Although this fat can be present in both subcutaneous and visceral tissues, over time the adipose cells lose their ability to retain this extra fat, and have no choice but to start accumulating as visceral depots in places surrounding internal organs where it normally doesn't, thus not being accessible even to be recycled.

The Energy Balance

2. Stress

Plays a key role in our bodies storing visceral fat. The Stress Hormone - Cortisol is known to significantly increase there tension of visceral fat.

3. Genetics

Unfortunately, some of us may just be genetically predisposed to depositing weight around our middles due to our body shape or just the way that our bodies work. For example, “Apple Shapes” tend to retain weight around their middles, while “Pear Shapes” carry weight lower.

How to Lose Visceral Fat

Start and Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle, both Physical and Mental! That's it - plain and simple.

1. Diet

  • Increase intake of plant-based foods from making fruits and vegetables at least 70% of your daily diet.
  • Reduce or Avoid Trans fats which are commonly used in the creation of various substitutes of natural oils mostly found in all processed foods.
  • Eliminate foods with a high glycemic index, as they can dramatically increase the sugar content in your blood, which increases insulin synthesis, resulting in formation and storage of excess fat on your waistline.
  • Minimize and Avoid consumption of alcoholic beverages and salty snacks accompanying it.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber
  • Consume Nuts, dried fruits, citrus fruits, raw vegetables, and fruits as alternative to any other snacks.

2. Exercise

Exercising an excellent Antidote to Visceral Fat. It does not have to be any high intensity gym sessions. Just giving your body the chance to move will help you get started. Take long walks post meals, play your favourite sport, cricket, football, swimming or even just playing hopscotch with your kids-everything counts!

3. Stress

Prolonged stress can affect your mental and physical health. It can even lead to a little extra weight around the middle, and extra abdominal fat isn't good for you. There are studies that even suggest that Visceral Obesity is a  Physiological Adaptation to Stress! Meaning this is nothing short of a vicious cycle. Stress Management is a key  factor in the management visceral fat loss.

The Role of Stress in Belly Fat

abdominal obesity

4. Sleep

The quantity and quality of your sleep have a direct impact on your cortisol levels and weight. In other words: inadequate sleep is a stressor! Most people need 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. In order to make this happen, make sure you have a consistent bedtime of around 10 pm. Turn off electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime, and do something relaxing like reading or taking a bath.

Bottomline

Visceral fat is fat that we can't see, it's not easy to tell if someone has too much of it. The health threats associated with high visceral fat levels are severe, making it essential for anyone who is overweight or suspecting high levels of visceral fat levels to get it checked out at the earliest. Visceral fat gathers around the organs and it gets there the same way as other fat – through poor diet, lack of exercise and genetics. In today's world where everything is instant and 24X7, there is new information thrown at us every week. But how many of us actually understand or assimilate that information and recognize if it may be applicable to us individually?

Since the symptoms or nature of visceral belly fat is that it cannot be seen, many of us don't give it a second thought and only start to do something about it when our health starts deteriorating enough for us to feel it. But remember, the more often and longer the blood insulin levels remain high, the more likely you are to accumulate excessive body fat and ending up battling weight problems. When it is so difficult to even know or understand if we are at risk of health diseases, it is even more confusing to trust what health recommendations are truly effective. The secret mantra for this is to just start living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. These 4 words are powerful enough to prevent and later burn off the multiple fat deposits you may be storing. So start today, evaluate the fat you see around your midsection using any of the methods mentioned above - BMI, Waist Circumference and Waist - to - Hip Ratio, and gauge how you measure up!

FAQs

Can you lose visceral fat by walking?

The abdominal cavity contains visceral fat, often known as belly fat. Excess visceral fat is particularly dangerous, since it has been related to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, and even some malignancies. It's tough to tell how much visceral fat a person has, but a bulging belly and a wide waist are two symptoms that they have too much. Carrying too much visceral fat is a severe health issue, and actions should be done to get rid of the hazardous fat to assist lower health risks.

Walking is a fantastic fat-burning workout. While any activity may burn calories, 45 minutes of brisk walking mobilizes the body to tap into fat stores and burn stored fat. It's particularly helpful for visceral fat loss , which not only adds inches to the waistline but also increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Regular moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking, has been linked to decreased levels of abdominal fat. Walking is a low-intensity activity that is simple to add into your everyday routine. Simply walking more often will help you lose weight and abdominal fat while also providing other fantastic health advantages such as a lower risk of illness and a better mood. In reality, walking one mile burns around 100 calories. If you want to improve your weight management, combining increased physical activity with a nutrient-rich, balanced diet gives the highest chance of success.

Is visceral belly fat hard to lose?

Yes, just like general fat, visceral fat can be hard to lose, especially visceral belly fat. But there are ways to reduce visceral fat, with consistency and minor lifestyle changes. Visceral fat can be especially hard to lose due to its connection to insulin resistance which causes weight gain. A few ways to lose visceral fat are:

  • Being active throughout the day, especially after meals
  • Going for regular brisk walks for 45 minutes
  • Avoiding fried food and sugary drinks
  • Maintaining a fixed sleep schedule

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