What Is Visceral Fat
When you think of weight gain, what is your main concern?
Did you know that the vast majority of people have excess abdominal fat?
Abdominal fat, commonly known as having a ‘spare tire’ is not just an extra lump of flesh covering up your abs from being visible. It can be dangerous and a risk factor. Although it is unhealthy to have excess body fat spread across your body, it is riskier to have excess abdominal fat. There are two types of fat that you can have in the abdominal region.
- Subcutaneous fat: This type of fat covers the abs and lies beneath the skin, directly above the abdominal muscles.
- Visceral Fat: It is excess intra-abdominal adipose tissue accumulation, commonly known as deep fat. It is stored underneath the skin, wrapped around vital organs like the liver, pancreas and kidney. Visceral fat causes excessive protrusion of the abdomen and is common among middle-aged men and women.
Having excessive visceral fat is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat. They both increase the risks of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnea, various forms of cancer, and other degenerative diseases.
How is visceral fat measured?
Visceral fat can be accurately diagnosed with a CT or MRI scan. Using an MRI scan, body fat is measured on a scale of 1 to 59. Healthy levels of visceral fat stay under 13, anything from 13-59 is generally unhealthy. There are other inexpensive procedures to help evaluate the amount of visceral fat in your body.
For instance, Harvard Health, states that about 10 percent of total body fat is visceral fat. Thus, 10% of your total body fat is the estimated amount of visceral fat.
Another easy way is by measuring your waist size. Woman with waist sizes measured at 35 inches or larger are at higher risks for health complications from visceral fat. While men with waist measured at 40 inches or larger are likely to suffer from health problems.
Complications of visceral fat
As already mentioned, visceral fat can lead to health problems. These problems include the following:
- Coronary heart disease
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sleep disorders
Visceral fat is hazardous and in most cases, the source of deadly illnesses.
Contrary to popular notion, cells do more than simply store extra calories. In fact, fat tissue itself acts like its own organ by pumping out hormones and inflammatory substances. Storing excess fat around the organs increases production of pro-inflammatory chemicals, also called cytokines, which trigger inflammations and interfere with the body’s normal hormonal functions. It interferes with hormones that regulate appetite, weight, mood and brain function.
How Visceral Fat Develops
The body system functions through a complex set of chemicals that determine when to eat and when we are full. This chemical feedback system is built on communication between the brain and other major organs. It is also responsible for the body’s weight, either keeping us at a healthy weight or making us more susceptible to weight gain and visceral fat storage.
Insulin is the main trigger button behind body weight, appetite, mood control and blood sugar levels. Insulin balances blood sugar levels and lower high sugar levels especially after eating a high-carbohydrate or sugary meal.
After consuming refined processed carbohydrates and sugary foods, the simple sugars enter the bloodstream and trigger the release of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin signals the body’s fat stores, including the visceral fat stored in the body.
The excess glucose in the bloodstream is stored as fat. This happens a lot more quickly with processed starches, like white bread or white rice, along with high-sugar foods, are rapidly converted into simple sugars that enter the bloodstream and trigger a larger release of insulin from the pancreas.
The result of this process is weight gain and an unusual increase in appetite, which leads to continuous overeating. The vicious cycle continues until it becomes a threat.
The more often and longer the blood insulin levels remain high, the more likely a person is to accumulate excess body fat and to battle weight problems. Insulin also communicates with hormones needed for various functions like the adrenal glands and stress hormone cortisol. An abnormal level of cortisol and hormonal imbalances results in powerful urges to eat, mood changes, lack of energy and various other factors that contribute to disease formation. However, there are other factors such as genetics, age and body type that affects the amount of fat stored as visceral fat in some people but not in others.
Long-term Effects Of High Levels of Visceral Fat
- Increased Inflammation
Visceral fat produces hormonal and inflammatory molecules that get stored directly into the liver, resulting in inflammation and hormone-disrupting reactions. This process causes fat to be stored around vital organs like the liver, heart, kidneys, pancreas and intestines, leading to an overall inflamed system.
Visceral fat does more than just lead to inflammation, it becomes inflamed itself by producing a type of inflammatory molecule known as interleukin-6. This kind of fat stores inflammatory white blood cells and kicks off a series of autoimmune reactions. This Inflammation is at the root of most diseases.
- Higher Risk of Diabetes
Insulin resistance is largely caused by visceral fat which is a directly linked to diabetes. Studies show that potbellied people are more susceptible to developing diabetes than other people. Reducing visceral fat through a healthy diet and exercise routine is one of the most important natural diabetes treatments.
- Makes It Harder to Lose Weight
Visceral fat which tends to operate as an organ in itself creates a cycle that makes it hard to lose weight. People tend to get heavier and heavier as time goes on because as fat increases, hunger level also increases leading to more eating. It is like an unending process. This also affects your metabolism and hormonal changes that fuel overeating.
Higher levels of insulin also promote efficient conversion of excess glucose into body fat. Refined carbohydrates and sugary foods are major culprits.
- Higher Risk for Heart Disease and Strokes
Visceral fat is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease makers like high triglycerides, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. A fat-generated inflammatory molecule like cytokines is directly linked to heart disease and other inflammatory disorders. When the internal organs are inflamed, the liver becomes overwhelmed with cholesterol and toxins, which leads to plaque buildup in the arteries.
- More Likely to Battle Dementia
There’s a link between obesity, vascular disease, inflammation and cognitive decline, particularly dementia. Excess pounds has been associated with less brain volume and, therefore, poorer function into older age.
A study done revealed that people with the pot bellies have a higher risk of dementia than those with smaller bellies. This is true even for people with excess belly fat but who are overall at a normal weight. The higher a person’s waist-to-hip ratio, the more impact felt on the brain’s memory centre called the hippocampus.
Many experts recommend that visceral adipose tissue (VAT) levels rather than BMI should be considered as an important risk factor in determining the risk of developing dementia.
Also, declining brain function is associated with the risks of developing small strokes.
- Increased Likelihood Of Depression and Aggressive Mood Swings
Excess body fat is linked to hormonal changes, such as serotonin, galanin and other brain neurotransmitters, excess body fat can negatively impact moods.
A study done in Boston University School of Medicine found that depressive symptoms to be associated with visceral adiposity in middle-aged adults.
Depression is especially associated with greater fat storage in women. In a study of middle-aged women over 50 years old, visceral fat, but not subcutaneous belly fat or waist circumference, was related to depressive symptoms.
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