Having a healthy body is about more than just your weight. Your body is made up of various components, including water, muscle, fat, bone and more. When it comes to your body composition, the most harmful component is visceral fat.
What is visceral fat?
Visceral fat, also called abdominal obesity or belly fat, is the fat that surrounds your internal organs inside your abdominal cavity.
Why is visceral fat bad?
Everyone has visceral fat, but having too much of it can lead to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, asthma, and cancer.
Visceral fat also releases 50+ harmful inflammatory molecules into your body and bloodstream. These inflammatory compounds include IL-6, IL-1b, PAI-I, and TNF-alpha, among many others. These compounds cause inflammation and can lead to chronic illnesses like the ones mentioned above. Visceral fat can also release angiotensin, which is a protein that can increase your blood pressure, and RBP4 which makes you more resistant to insulin.
How to measure visceral fat?
Having a protruding abdomen is an indicator that you may have excessive visceral fat. While women with a waist 35+ inches and men 40+ inches have shown the greatest risk of death from CVD & other health issues, women with waist sizes 28 inches and higher and men 36 inches and higher also have elevated risk and studies have shown that VF accumulation is pathologic well below these 35/40 inch waist values. Waist to hip ratio is also used to try and better gauge the level of visceral fat, but because visceral fat is not only found in the abdomen, it extends up into the neck in most cases the true visceral fat load and risk doesn’t usually correlate with waist sizes alone. As waist sizes get bigger, yes it is indicative of more visceral fat, but as they get smaller there is discordance that include factors like gender, ethnicity, economic status and more. Visceral fat around the lungs, heart and major vessels have as big, if not bigger, impact on cardiovascular health events and other comorbidities than the visceral fat in the abdominal cavity. This is one of the proposed reasons that hidden obesity or visceral fat accumulation in overweight but non-obese and also normal weight people is so deadly. The effects of visceral fat located in the thoracic (chest) cavity can wreak havoc for years before the waist sizes are large enough to be considered high risk.
Visceral Fat Level
Visceral fat can be accurately measured using sophisticated imaging techniques like CT & MRI, and also in an inexpensive non-invasive manner using bioelectrical impedance analysis scales. Tanita pioneered this technique and have published numerous white papers on its tight correlation with DEXA scans. Blood levels of some of the compounds mentioned above are also being developed as markers of visceral fat levels.
Relationship Between Stress and Visceral Fat
Stress causes increased visceral fat in many ways. First, when we are stressed we tend to reach for foods that are not the most nutritious. Also, stress causes your body to release a stress hormone called cortisol. Studies have shown that long-term elevated cortisol levels lead to increased visceral fat.
Visceral Belly Fat Removal
Can you use liposuction for visceral fat? No. Visceral fat is found inside your body and liposuction is used to remove small amounts of fat from the outside of your body under your skin. The best way to reduce or burn visceral fat is through significant lifestyle changes and nutrition, like the 20Lighter program.
How does visceral fat cause heart disease?
When the harmful compounds mentioned above are released into your bloodstream, where they have both systemic and local effects in organs like the heart. The inflammation they cause can lead to a plaque forming on the arteries that feed your heart muscles (called coronary arteries). Over time, these plaques can grow and rupture, leading to a heart attack. Visceral fat is also tightly linked to hypertension (high blood pressure), and while plaques play a role, the direct and indirect effects of hypertension have as big an impact on cardiovascular disease and stroke as plaques do. The inflammatory molecules in the circulation and also in local visceral fat stores (such as around the blood vessels) also cause changes in the endothelium that lines the major blood vessels and heart causing additional problems like leaky blood vessel walls and immune cell activation.
BMI vs. Body Composition
BMI is a simple measurement based on your weight and height alone. It is commonly used by medical professionals because of its simplicity and ease of use. Body composition is a more accurate measurement of your overall health, but most medical offices do not have the tools to provide a thorough analysis of your body composition. Bioelectrical impedance scales are available and not much more expensive than a regular commercial body weight scale, and more doctors and healthcare professionals are starting to use them.
How to reduce visceral fat?
Besides choosing a program like 20Lighter that is targeted to reducing inflammation and visceral fat, getting adequate sleep, quitting smoking, taking care of your mental health, and reducing your stress levels can help you toward your health goals.