Visceral Fat: The Hidden Danger and How to Fight It
Why you should be worried about your visceral fat
Visceral fat was an afterthought 50 years ago. It was simply known to be the small amount of fat packed around the organs in the abdomen. That is not the case today.
With rates of obesity and metabolic disorder rising at historic rates, visceral fat is skyrocketing. This is a bad omen. Visceral fat is at least correlated with, if not the cause of, many serious chronic diseases.
Visceral fat is, in my opinion, more important that the total amount of body fat on a person - especially in terms of predicting negative outcomes.
Body fat distribution is a topic we have only started to truly understand in the last few decades. The fact is, there are certain body shapes that are healthier than others, on average. Someone who is “apple-shaped,” meaning they carry more visceral fat, is likely less healthy than someone who is “pear-shaped,” meaning they carry more fat in their thighs and butt.
The reasons for these fat distributions are multifactorial. They are driven by genetics, hormones, gender, age, and likely other factors.
Do not read this as an endorsement of the ridiculous “healthy at every weight” movement. As a person becomes more obese the body needs to find somewhere to pack on the pounds. The viscera are just as good a place as any.
This is a growing problem with no end in sight. Unfortunately, it’s being cheered on by influencers and “doctors” with a large platform. The “dad-bod” phenomenon is a great example. Dad-bod (aka skinny-fat) is nothing more than a healthy-weight man with low muscle mass.
Shouldn’t they be low body weight if they have low muscle mass, you may ask? No. They have high visceral fat. That’s why they have the beer belly.
Measuring visceral fat doesn’t need to be complicated. There isn’t really a good reason to determine the exact amount for the average person. Body measurements like waist: height ratio are sufficient. If your waist: height is greater than 0.5 you probably have too much visceral fat.
You must measure your waist at the correct location to get an accurate measurement. This should be done halfway between your last rib and the crest of your hip. Search how to do it on Youtube if you are unfamiliar with those landmarks.
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People who want a more accurate measurement can get scans like a DEXA Scan. This is more expensive and can be hard to find but it’s highly accurate.
Do not overlook the importance of visceral fat. It is very strongly correlated, if not causing multiple chronic conditions that will significantly lower your quality of life.
Any body weight over the normal range according to the standard BMI scale puts you at increased risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Exceptions are made for those with high muscle mass for whom the BMI scale isn’t a good fit.
It turns out, visceral fat increases before the onset of diabetes. It’s hard to say if the increase in visceral fat causes diabetes to progress or if it’s simply an early warning sign. Either way, the correlation is very strong.
Interestingly, obesity is a poor predictor of poor outcomes from cardiovascular disease. It turns out abdominal circumference is a great predictor. Abdominal circumference is one way of measuring visceral fat.
This means high those with higher visceral fat are at greater risk of heart attack and have higher overall mortality due to cardiac conditions.
There are many studies showing this correlation. Those in the “healthy at all sizes” camp don’t have a leg to stand on.
I am not going to get into the weeds on elevated cholesterol, LDL, HDL, particle size, and so forth in this article. For the purposes of this article, the mainstream understanding of cholesterol and lipids are sufficient:
HDL = good
LDL = bad
cholesterol = bad
triglycerides = bad
With that in mind, central obesity (visceral fat) is strongly correlated with low HDL and high triglycerides. Additionally, these folk have smaller/denser LDL and HDL particles which leads to atherosclerosis.
Body weight is highly correlated with elevated blood pressure (hypertension). So, it would make sense that visceral fat is also correlated since those with high body fat will have more visceral fat.
However, there is a direct mechanism by which high levels of visceral fat lead to high blood pressure directly.
Blood pressure is controlled in part by the kidneys for reasons I won’t go into right now. Visceral fat surrounds and envelops the kidneys. When there is too much fat, it can lead to distortions in the renal architecture which leads to hypertension.
Additionally, the hormones that control blood pressure (aldosterone and angiotensin II) are stimulated by adipose cells (fat). Meaning, more fat = more release = higher blood pressure.
Again, obesity alone is a risk factor for cancer. Adipose tissue increases the production and release of estrogen which is carcinogenic. Insulin is another potential source. We don’t fully understand why obesity causes increased frequency of many cancers, but we know it does.
With all that in mind, let’s get into how to get rid of your visceral fat.