The Hidden Danger: How Visceral Fat Puts Your Health at Risk

It’s no secret that having excess fat stored in the body can lead to serious health complications, but what may surprise you is that there are some types of fat that are worse than others. Visceral fat is a type of fat that gets stored in the belly. It makes up one-tenth of all the fat in the body but can pose some significant health risks such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and heart disease. In fact, having visceral fat in the belly is a major sign of metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of disorders including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and insulin resistance. All of these increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, there are many effective ways you can start tackling visceral fat at the source to eradicate it and reduce the associated risks.

visceral fat info

What is Visceral Fat?

Visceral fat, also known as hidden fat, is a type of fat in the body that gets stored deep in the abdomen, surrounding important organs such as the liver, stomach and intestines. It accounts for approximately 10% of total body fat and can have a significant impact on our overall health. It is also sometimes referred to as “active fat” as it plays an active role in how the body functions.

Now, just because you have some belly fat doesn’t necessarily mean you have visceral fat. What you could be seeing is likely subcutaneous fat, which is stored underneath the skin. Visceral fat is actually harder to detect as it is stored inside the abdominal cavity and isn’t easy to see. With that said, you could also have a flat tummy and still have visceral fat.

What Causes Visceral Fat?

If you think you may be struggling with visceral fat, understanding the potential causes can help you determine if this is, indeed, what you’re experiencing since it can be hard to detect with just the eye.

Both genetics and environmental factors, such as diet, exercise and stress, play a role in the amount of visceral fat your body stores. For example, your genetics determine your body shape and how your body stores visceral fat, which may be responsible for the apple-shaped body that studies have linked to higher amounts of visceral fat.

A diet that is high in carbohydrates and fatty foods combined with a lack of exercise can also increase the amount of visceral fat stored in the body.

Lastly, stress is another factor that can lead to the accumulation of this type of fat. This is because the body produces more cortisol (your stress hormone) when you are experiencing stress, which triggers your flight-or-fight response and leads to more visceral fat being stored.

Here is a quick recap:

  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Stress

Signs You May Have Visceral Fat

A growing tummy is often the most obvious sign that visceral fat is being stored in the body. However, this can also be a sign of subcutaneous fat, making it quite difficult to tell the two apart. One key difference, according to studies, is that visceral fat tends to produce more of a potbelly or an apple-shaped tummy, rather than pear-shaped.

Measuring Visceral Fat

The only way to determine the amount of visceral fat you are storing is to measure it. Healthcare providers have a specific method for measuring visceral fat, which basically consists of taking your total body fat percentage and subtracting 10%. That 10% is your visceral fat.

There are a couple of ways you can do this calculation on your own, such as:

  • Measuring your waist: Using a tape measure, wrap it around your waist just about your hips. Anything more than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men may indicate a risk of health problems and visceral fat.
  • Looking at your BMI: Your body mass index (BMI) is the measurement of your body fat based on your weight and height. Your doctor should be able to calculate this for you or you can use one of those blood pressure machines in pharmacies (the newer ones measure BMI as well). You want your BMI to be lower than 30, as anything higher can indicate overweight or obesity and higher levels of visceral fat. 
  • Determining your waist-to-hip ratio: Using a measuring tape, take your waist size and hip size. Divide your waist size by your hip size to get your waist-to-hip ratio. If it’s higher than 0.85 for women or 0.90 for men, you may be experiencing visceral fat.
  • Measuring waist-to-height ratio: Using a measuring tape, take your waist size and height. Divide your waist size by your height. If the number is higher than 0.5, you may have higher amounts of visceral fat.

 Keep in mind, these at-home methods may not be fully accurate and its best to speak with a healthcare provider to determine your levels of visceral fat.

Dangers of Visceral Fat

As mentioned previously, having visceral fat is often an indicator of metabolic syndrome – a collection of disorders including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and insulin resistance. Not only do these pose their own individual risks, but they can also increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Visceral fat has also been shown to increase one’s risk for Alzheimer’s.

Researchers believe that the risks associated with visceral fat are due to this type of fat making more of a certain protein known to inflame the body’s tissues and organs. As a result, blood vessels become narrower, blood pressure increases and the potential complications mentioned follow.

Here’s a quick recap of the potential risks associated with visceral fat:

Ways To Get Rid Visceral Fat

Although visceral fat is a unique type of body fat, the process for getting rid of it is similar to the approach used to lose other types of body fat: diet, lifestyle and exercise. The good news: burning off visceral fat is often easier than burning off subcutaneous fat because it metabolizes quicker.

Here are some recommendations to get you started:

While visceral fat can sound scary, implementing some healthy diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce this type of body fat and the associated risks. Doing so will also burn off other types of fat for an excellent boost to your overall health and wellness on a physical, mental and emotional level.

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