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What Is Visceral Fat And Why Is It So Dangerous?

It doesn’t take much to realize that obesity rates are climbing in today’s society. One looks around a shopping mall, restaurant, or any other public health center and it’ll all become obvious very quickly. We are getting fatter by the day, or so it may seem to put it bluntly.

This is interesting to note because, at the same time, more and more health initiatives are being put into place. People are bombarded by ‘healthier choices’ in restaurants, grocery stores, and fast food establishments all in an effort to have us eat better.

Likewise, there are currently more diets out there than ever before and people are starting these new diets daily. But still, obesity is skyrocketing.

With this comes increased pressure on our health care costs. Obesity is expensive as so many diseases are tied into it and stem from the excess weight.

If you are someone who is currently overweight and suffering from unwanted weight gain, one important thing you’ll want to note is that there is a difference between the types of weight gain you might experience.

Basically, there are two different kinds of body fat: visceral fat and subcutaneous fat.

You might just look at someone whose overweight and see one thing – excess pounds. But a doctor or other medical professional will look at two people and can see two very different stories as far as their health is concerned.

While subcutaneous fat may not look all that pleasant and is still not ‘healthy’ for you to have, it’s not nearly as dangerous as it is if you suffer from visceral fat. Visceral fat is the type of fat that you really do need to be worried about and if you are suffering from, take action to heal.

Let’s go over what visceral fat is, how it happens and what you can do about it.

What Is Visceral Fat?

So you might be wondering how the two different types of fat differ. What makes one harmful and the other one not so much?

The difference is in the location. Subcutaneous fat, as the name suggests, lies beneath the skin.

Visceral fat, on the other hand, is deeper than this. It’s fat that’s stored well within the body and is typically going to house the organs. It’s fat that can really interfere with your day to day functioning, at least as far as your health is concerned.

Think of it this way, the subcutaneous fat you have present is like a blanket that simply covers your body. It’s like a sheet that’s just laying over top of your bones, muscles, and organs, and offering some extra padding (and what some might consider protection).

Visceral fat, however, is more like a gel that is able to work its way into the small holes and crevices in the body, clogging things up. When all these spaces get filled with visceral fat, nothing is going to work as it should and your system will ‘seize up’, in a sense.

One of the big reasons why visceral fat is so dangerous is because most people don’t even realize they have it until they are suffering from a major disease because of it.

Since it is housed deep within the body cavity, it’s very reasonable to not notice it building. You can’t pinch it like you can with subcutaneous fat to see just how much you have. In fact, there is no way of ever seeing it with the naked eye. So you may very well have large amounts of visceral fat and not even realize you do.

Typically, speaking though, when you have large amounts of subcutaneous fat, you’ll also have larger amounts of visceral fat as well. So the two will go hand in hand in many cases.

If you have visible weight to lose, it’s probably a safe bet that you could stand to lose some visceral fat as well.

So what are the big health risks of having too much visceral fat? When your levels start to really climb, it is going to change how your body operates.

You’ll notice that you’ll be at an increased risk for a number of different diseases.

Some of these can include:

· Coronary heart disease1
· Cancer2
· Stroke
· Dementia
· Diabetes
· Depression
· Sleep disorders3
· Sexual dysfunction

It’s not just the fact that this fat is there, blocking your organs and making them malfunction that’s the real problem. What’s also going to be at play is the fact that this form of fat can actually increase the overall levels of inflammation in the body. That inflammation can be what triggers a cascade of disease.

In previous times we always thought that fat cells were basically just cells with stored energy and that they didn’t do much except take up extra room in the body and clog the arteries. Now however we know that fat cells are very much functioning in their own right and do much more than take up space. They’re secreting hormones, producing pro-inflammatory chemicals, and altering the way our body operates as a whole.

So hopefully now you can see why taking your visceral fat seriously is so important.

What Causes Visceral Fat To Develop?

You might now be asking yourself what the cause of visceral fat is. What is the reason it’s developing in the body?

The specific cause of visceral fat is going to be primarily the same as the cause of subcutaneous fat to develop. Both types of fats are linked to an energy imbalance situation where you’re consuming more energy than you’re burning off.

The equation looks like this:

Energy Consumed Versus Energy Expended = Body Weight

If you eat more energy than you burn off through all your daily activities, you’re going to have a net surplus of energy coming in. In accordance with the law of thermodynamics, energy cannot be created or destroyed. Therefore, this extra energy must be stored as body fat.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you expend more energy than you consume, you’re creating a net calorie deficit. This is going to mean that you’re actually tapping into stored energy and using it as a fuel source. Hence, you may notice yourself getting leaner overall.

Do realize of course that this is what is taking place at the very basic level and it’s typically a bit more complex than this. Especially when looking at the question of why you might store more visceral fat instead of subcutaneous fat.

So why is that? What makes one person have more visceral fat while others simply pack it on under the skin?

There are a few different factors that can be at play with this situation.

Inflammation

The first factor that can influence the storage of your fat gain is if you have very high levels of inflammation in the body already. This is kind of a catch 22 because it basically states that if you are suffering from high inflammation levels, you’re more likely to store greater amounts of visceral fat. Which, in turn, is actually going to cause you to have even more inflammation.

So it’s a self-fulfilling cycle and the more weight you gain, the worse the situation is going to get.

Controlling inflammation levels is something that’s typically carried out through your diet plan, exercise program, as well as by making a few key lifestyle changes as needed.

Inflammation is not something that you can make disappear overnight, however. Do note that it’s something that is going to take months to decrease, if not years depending on just how much you have.

Likewise, though, it’s also not something that will come on overnight either and chances are, it’s been creeping up for quite some time.

Cortisol

Another factor that can really play a strong role in how you store your body fat is the level of cortisol you have in your system.

What’s cortisol?

Cortisol is the stress hormone that’s released from the adrenal gland anytime you are being placed under stress. It might be physical stress, financial stress, relationship stress, or even just the stress from a good, hard workout.

Cortisol levels do tend to fluctuate throughout the day but for some people, they experience chronically high levels of cortisol all the time.

When this is taking place, that’s when you have a greater problem on your hands. High levels of cortisol will not only be linked to the loss of lean muscle mass tissue (because cortisol is catabolic), but it can also be linked to an increase in the accumulation of fat in the abdominal region as well.

And, where is visceral fat stored? You guessed it – the abdominal region.

Simply by having more cortisol present in the body, you are more prone to storing fat exactly where you don’t want to store it. So this is yet another reason why it’s imperative that you’re doing everything you can to minimize stress.

Deep breathing, meditation, light exercise, relaxation exercises, taking a bath – anything of this nature can help you get your stress levels back under control. This can help reduce the chances that cortisol comes into play in your life.

Stress is something that impacts many of us and some don’t even realize they’re highly stressed until something happens (such as they suffer from burnout). Finally, sent the message that they are just doing too much and their body and/or mind is constantly being overworked.

Sleep Quality

Poor sleep quality can also be linked to higher than normal levels of visceral fat in the body as well. This comes in conjunction with higher cortisol levels as poor sleep will also raise that hormone in the body as well.

Poor sleep is also connected with insulin resistance4, which is a situation where the body is unable to respond to the hormone insulin as it should and this hormone is in part responsible for helping to direct where glucose moves when it hits the bloodstream.

If your insulin-resistant, there are much greater chances that after eating carbohydrate-rich foods, you’ll begin storing those foods in the body fat stores.

If you’re not insulin resistant, there’s a greater chance you may shuttle those carbs into the muscle tissues to be stored as muscle glycogen, or are simply better at burning those carbs off for energy.

Alcohol Intake

Moving on, another factor that can put you at a higher risk of suffering from visceral fat is a greater consumption of alcohol. When you consume alcohol, you are putting a toxin into your body. If you put enough of this toxin in, make no mistake, it is going to impact how your body operates and functions.

Ever heard of the phrase ‘beer gut’ (or it may have been ‘beer belly’)? Well, that stems from the fact that those who drink a high amount of beer tend to have very round, firm, hard stomachs.

That is a classic signal that visceral fat is being stored. One unique thing about visceral fat is that it doesn’t present itself in the body the way that subcutaneous fat does.

When you have high amounts of subcutaneous fat, you’re able to squish your fat around, pinching it as you please.

With visceral fat, your stomach will typically still protrude as there is excess fat in the region. But because this fat is deeper down in the body, it doesn’t have this soft appearance like subcutaneous fat does.

Now, if you’re looking at someone who has both, they will still have that’s soft look to them. But if the person you’re looking at is relatively lean otherwise, they won’t and instead, their stomach will be round but firm.

So if you’ve seen this before and it always puzzled you why their fat in that area looks like that, this is why.

Drinking alcohol will speed up this process so is not something that you want to be doing.

So there are a few of the key reasons why you may be storing more visceral fat than someone else who is eating a higher calorie intake as well. Do keep in mind that genetics and hormones also will impact things. Lower testosterone levels for instance in males can make all weight gain more likely. So this would apply to both visceral and subcutaneous fat.

In women, hitting menopause years will also change how your body processes energy and may alter how you are storing fat due to the differences in your hormone levels at this point in time.

If you have a family history where family members had high levels of visceral fat, this would also be a reason to be extra cautious yourself. See if you can take extra steps to bring your own levels down.

There are so many factors at work in this situation that it’s hard to pinpoint just one and look at that exclusively.

This said, there are many ways that you can help lower your visceral fat level, starting right now.

Some of these include:

· Cutting out all refined sugars in your diet. Focus on wholesome, non-processed foods instead.
· Loading up on as many fresh vegetables and fruits as possible. The more, the better as far as minimizing visceral fat goes.
· Exercising on a regular basis. Whether you choose to walk, strength training, or some other form of exercise, almost all exercise will help lower your visceral fat levels. It does appear that visceral fat responds very well to higher intensity forms of exercise, so if you can, try to focus on that.
· Lower your stress levels. Stress can be very trying at times and it may seem impossible to control, but the better you can control it, the better off you’ll be.
· Make getting a good night’s sleep a priority. Don’t let being busy crowd sleep out of your agenda.

So there you have the facts about visceral fat. If you currently believe you might have higher visceral fat levels, you’ll definitely want to start taking steps immediately to bring them back down.

Visceral fat can be very challenging to get under control when it starts to get much higher and can quickly bring on a number of disease states. The good news, however, is that with the right approach, it is something that is within your power to change.

References:

  1. Matsuzawa, Yuji, et al. “Visceral fat accumulation and cardiovascular disease.” Obesity research 3.S5 (1995): 645S-647S.
  2. Von Hafe, Pedro, et al. “Visceral fat accumulation as a risk factor for prostate cancer.” Obesity research 12.12 (2004): 1930-1935.
  3. Chin, Kazuo, et al. “Changes in intra-abdominal visceral fat and serum leptin levels in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome following nasal continuous positive airway pressure therapy.” Circulation 100.7 (1999): 706-712.
  4. Frayn, Keith N. “Visceral fat and insulin resistance—causative or correlative?.” British Journal of Nutrition 83.S1 (2000): S71-S77.

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