Health professionals will often tell people that they need to lose weight to minimize their risk of diseases. But, increasingly, researchers are finding that it’s not the amount of fat you have that matters for health, but how it is distributed. For instance, you can have a person who is massively overweight. But as long as their body deposits fat in the right place, they can be perfectly healthy and live a long and full life. Let’s talk about the dangers of visceral abdominal fat that you might not be aware of… yet.
What is visceral fat?
The most dangerous type of fat is called visceral fat. It’s a type of fat that wraps around your internal organs in the abdominal area. This fat stores around essential organs, including the liver and intestines.
You can have two people of the same weight, but their health outcomes can differ depending on their level of visceral fat. If your body is apple-shaped, that means you have abdominal fat or a wide belly. You can see or measure it, but you cannot pinch it (unlike subcutaneous fat).
One person might have internal organs free from fatty deposits. That patient is much less likely to go on to develop chronic disease. Another person, though, with a few pounds of fat around their liver and intestines, is more likely to have a problem.
The dangers of visceral abdominal fat to long-term health
Visceral fat is actually so detrimental to long-term health that many people go on extreme diets or get gastric sleeve surgery. If your doctor tells you that you have too much of it, it is worth taking drastic remedial action as soon as possible if this physician says it is safe.
It’s not a matter of weight or body-shaming, but clear and immediate medical danger. People with visceral fat tend to develop a range of health problems.
Visceral fat appears to be dangerous for a couple of reasons. First, it seems to prevent the body from doing “house-cleaning.” The liver, for instance, can’t work as effectively when engorged by fat.
The other problem is that visceral fat causes inflammation in cells, which switches off their capacity to absorb and use sugar in the bloodstream. Insulin is no longer as effective, so the pancreas has to churn out more of it to keep glucose levels normal. That can lead to other metabolic problems.
If you have too much visceral fat around your organs, it can lead to a condition called sleep apnea. This issue is another of the dangers of visceral fat.
In sleep apnea, the airways become constricted or blocked while you’re asleep, preventing you from breathing. People with the condition frequently wake up in the night as their bodies go into a panic from the lack of oxygen.
Visceral fat may make the condition worse by putting pressure on the airways and diaphragm. It can also limit the expansion of the lungs as you breathe in while unconscious.
Sleep apnea can lead to a range of medical problems, including daytime sleepiness and high blood pressure. It can also lead to headaches.
There’s evidence that higher levels of dangerous visceral fat lead to cytokine production. Cytokine is a chemical in the body that signals for the immune system to create inflammation. When inflammation in the body is high, it can damage the artery walls and lead to atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque).
Eventually, these plaques can become unstable. The issue can cause heart attacks and strokes, so it is not something to take lightly.
Type II diabetes
Adult-onset or type II diabetes is also much more common in people with a large amount of visceral abdominal fat, so that’s another danger. As already discussed, having more fat around your internal organs increases blood glucose levels and makes it more difficult for sugar to get into cells.
Over time, the body’s insulin metabolism can break down and eventually stop working altogether. That can lead to diabetes.
So, what can you do to fight back against visceral fat and remove it from your body?
How to combat the dangers of visceral fat
There are several things that you can try. The first is to start eating the kinds of food that allow your body to burn more visceral fat.
Beans and whole grains are two good examples. So, too, are nuts and seeds. These foods seem to put the body in a fat-burning mode, getting it to clean out all the visceral fat and repair itself to some degree.
The second option is to use saunas and ice baths. It sounds a bit like a gimmick, but going from hot to cold actually helps with the development of brown fat. That’s a special type of highly metabolic fat that protects your body from chronic diseases.
The third option is to start moving more. Walking helps to reduce visceral fat and encourages the body to replace it with more muscle tissue.
Fitness, when done safely, can prevent the buildup of visceral fat in the first place. If you have an existing medical condition or health concerns, see your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.