Fat tissue is the body’s way of storing long-term energy, and is also considered anendocrine organ. Fat tissue produces substances that affect the function of other cells and tissues, and too much fat causes health problems.
You’ve likely heard that an overweight person with an “apple” body shape is in more danger than someone of a similar weight with a “pear” shape, with fat distributed more in the hips and thighs.
Our body fat is indeed different depending on its location. Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat just under the skin, all over the body. Visceral fat is located deep in the abdominal cavity around the organs.
We have a limited amount of control over the distribution of our body fat. Body fat distribution varies by age, gender, ethnicity and genetics.
You may have a normal BMI – thinking your weight is not putting your health at risk – but have a waist circumference that indicates abdominal obesity. By waist circumference, abdominal obesity is defined as 35 inches for women, 40 for men. Abdominal obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and later life dementia.1, 2 A large waist circumference has been linked to negative outcomes even among people with normal BMI numbers. Additionally, some studies have compared two groups of obese patients with the same total body fat, but low or high levels of visceral fat. The high visceral fat groups were found to have evidence of greater insulin resistance than the low visceral fat groups, indicating a greater risk of type 2 diabetes.1
Visceral Fat’s Many Dangers
To be clear, excess body fat is problematic no matter what its location.. Obesity creates a state of low-grade chronic inflammation, and inflammation is a key component of some of our most common diseases and leading causes of death, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
As fat tissue grows, more pro-inflammatory compounds are produced, elevating the risk of these diseases. Visceral fat is thought to be more harmful to health than subcutaneous fat; more biologically active and more pro-inflammatory.3, 45 Visceral fat specifically is linked to cardiovascular risk factors, such as increased circulating triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol.
To get rid of visceral fat, eat healthfully and exercise often
The strategy for losing visceral fat is the same for fat loss in general. Losing visceral fat and keeping it off takes a permanent and real commitment to healthy eating and exercise. The way to maintain a healthy weight for life is to follow a nutritarian (nutrient-dense, plant-rich) diet for life. A Nutritarian diet is designed to maximize protection against heart disease and cancer and promote longevity. When you eat for health and longevity, the result is healthy weight that remains stable. A recent study found that 75 obese patients who had switched to a nutrient-dense plant-rich diet reported their average weight loss was 55 pounds, and none had gained back any lost weight three years later.7 Exercise is an essential component also, as regular exercise has been shown to reduce waist circumference, even if there is no change in BMI.8
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1. Tchernof A, Despres JP. Pathophysiology of human visceral obesity: an update.Physiol Rev 2013,93:359-404.
2. Zeki Al Hazzouri A, Haan MN, Whitmer RA, et al. Central obesity, leptin and cognitive decline: the Sacramento Area Latino Study on Aging.Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2012, 33:400-409.
3. Coelho M, Oliveira T, Fernandes R. Biochemistry of adipose tissue: an endocrine organ.Arch Med Sci2013, 9:191-200.
4. Strohacker K, Carpenter KC, McFarlin BK. Consequences of Weight Cycling: An Increase in Disease Risk?Int J Exerc Sci 2009, 2:191-201.
5. Strohacker K, McFarlin BK. Influence of obesity, physical inactivity, and weight cycling on chronic inflammation.Front Biosci (Elite Ed) 2010, 2:98-104.
6. Bergman RN, Kim SP, Catalano KJ, et al. Why visceral fat is bad: mechanisms of the metabolic syndrome.Obesity (Silver Spring) 2006, 14 Suppl 1:16S-19S.
7. Fuhrman J, Singer M. Improved Cardiovascular Parameter With a Nutrient-Dense, Plant-Rich Diet-Style: A Patient Survey With Illustrative Cases.Am J Lifestyle Med 2015.
8. Ross R, Janiszewski PM. Is weight loss the optimal target for obesity-related cardiovascular disease risk reduction?Can J Cardiol 2008, 24 Suppl D:25D-31D.