by Kimberly Allen, RN
Most people don’t realize that not all fat is created equal, one is definitely more dangerous than the other. Yes, there is more than one type of fat. There’s the fat you can pinch around your waist line, that’s called subcutaneous fat. And while it may make you cringe to look at, it’s the fat that’s underneath the muscles surrounding your organs that you don’t see that should really give you pause. That fat is called visceral fat. While we all need some visceral fat to pad and protect our organs, too much and it can lead to serious health issues. Also, for those of you that are thin, don’t think you can’t also have too much visceral fat. Research has indicated that visceral fat can be found deep inside the abdomen around the organs and can only be detected with a CT scan or MRI imaging. Which means you have the same health risks as someone with more visible subcutaneous fat.
What makes visceral fat so dangerous? Many researchers consider visceral fat an “active organ.” This is because it produces hormones and inflammatory elements. Researchers have determined that visceral fat breaks down freely into fatty acids which then go directly into the liver and muscle. The overabundance of acids then triggers a bunch of changes including increased productivity of the “bad” or LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. While at the same time decreasing the effectiveness of insulin making it more difficult to control your blood sugar. As your blood sugars become out of whack and the “bad” cholesterol starts building in your bloodstream, the door to diseases like Type II diabetes and heart disease has been opened. The research also indicated that visceral fat also activates a change in a hormone called angiotensin. Angiotensin is responsible for controlling the constriction of blood vessels, which can lead to hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
Studies have also indicated that men usually build up more visceral fat than women. It also begins earlier, in adolescence and early adulthood males begin to build abdominal fat, which is said to be one of the reasons men suffer from coronary artery disease more often than women. In fact one study indicated that men that have a large waist line with excess belly fat have a significant risk of an early death from any cause which is called “all-cause mortality.” Research indicates that women tend to start building visceral fat after menopause which is believed to be caused by decreased levels of estrogen. Abdominal fat or more specifically visceral fat significantly increases a woman’s risk of heart disease to five times normal.
However, there is some good news, visceral fat is much easier to lose than subcutaneous fat. Exercise is the fastest and best way to lose visceral fat. In a study done on 175 people, both men and women, researchers divided them into 4 groups. Each group was assigned a different level of activity ranging from vigorous intensity exercise while continuing their same dietary habits. The results clearly showed that those that didn’t exercise at all had a significant increases in visceral fat while those that exercised intensely had significantly decreased visceral fat. Even those that did low level mild exercise were able to stop building visceral fat, though it doesn’t reduce it. The visceral fat in the group with the highest intensity exercise was reduced by 6.9% while their subcutaneous fat dropped 7%. So no matter how you look at it exercise is crucial to health maintenance even minimal exercise can have an impact on your health.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.