When we think of fat, we may pinch our love handles, and grimace that we ‘really need to lose those last 10 pounds’. But this is actually not the true reality of what is going on, deep inside the nether regions of our body, within our cells and organs. Subcutaneous fat is what we are pinching, but visceral fat is what is killing us.
All those donuts have to go somewhere, and because they are loaded with sugar, those donuts likely cause us to gain visceral fat. But what exactly is this fat, which we can’t see? And why is it so detrimental? Today I will explain this little-known concept, and hopefully you can lead a healthier life as a result.
What Is Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat is simply described as the fat around our organs, inside our bodies. It spells big trouble for our health, and many do not even know that they have it. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which is found just under our skin, and is thus easily seen, visceral fat is the silent killer that makes a huge impact on our health. Visceral fat drives up your risk for dementia, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It is also a cause of insulin resistance. These are all very good reasons to start paying attention to this kind of fat.
Why Is It Bad?
Visceral fat is a great predictor of disease and death – no joke. This is the type of fat that will actually kill you – not your little love handles you’ve acquired from too much beer. Since visceral fat can – and does – surround your liver, pancreas and intestines, you can begin to see the problems it can cause. It is also sometimes called ‘active’ fat, because it plays such an important role in hormonal balance and function.
Can You See It?
Quite simply – no, you cannot see visceral fat. It is around your organs, while subcutaneous fat is the fat you can see. One example is the cliché ‘love handles’, which many sport as they age. However, some subcutaneous fat has been shown to actually be beneficial, while visceral fat has been shown to be anything but.
Visceral fat is part of the reason why we see 50-year-old marathon runners drop dead from heart attacks. “He was so healthy,” others will say. But was that man really that healthy? Chances are he may have had a lot of visceral fat, and maybe even some other bad biomarkers of health. The trouble with the silent killers is that people rarely check for them. This is a huge, and potentially fatal, mistake.
How To Help It?
The best way to deal with visceral fat is to never have it occur in the first place. This means eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of rest. But for those of us who do have lots of visceral fat, these same three steps will apply — only, you will need to take them much more seriously. There is a plethora of evidence that shows that visceral fat is linked to all kinds of serious health issues, and now those warnings will apply directly to you.
How To Get Tested
The best way to get tested for visceral fat danger is a DEXA scan. This will measure bone density, muscle, subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. There are even scales which help to measure visceral fat now, as well, which is an interesting development.
You can also get an MRI, though this tends to be more expensive. A relatively good way to make a rough estimate of visceral fat is to take a waist measurement. Since about 1/10 of your total fat is visceral, your weight itself is a general indicator of too much visceral fat being stored.
For a 160-pound man, this means that around 16 pounds would be stored as visceral fat. So the heavier you are, the more likely you will have unhealthy amounts of visceral fat. This is yet another reason why it is a good idea to lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
Exercise is a great way to improve all aspects of your health, and with regard to visceral fat, this is no exception. As mentioned, just being overweight means you are more likely to have dangerously high levels of visceral fat, so exercise for weight loss is absolutely vital. I wish I had some other tricks or shortcuts here, but quite simply, there are none.
Exercise will improve glucose tolerance, lower stress, and has also been linked with lower rates of depression, as well as decreased risk of obesity. It also helps to burn fat. While some of that fat will no doubt be subcutaneous, some of it will also be visceral. So if you have higher levels of visceral fat, get to stepping on that treadmill, or make a daily bike ride part of your routine.
Other Related Biomarkers
Visceral fat is one of the best predictors of disease and all-cause mortality (the scientific words for ‘death’). But besides visceral fat, there are a few other key biomarkers of health, which are equally important to check up on. The first is hemoglobin A1c, which will give you a general idea of your average insulin levels over a period of 2-3 months.
Since elevated (not even diabetic) levels of blood sugar are a risk factor for dementia, it is crucial that you keep these levels in an optimal range, and keep sugar intake to a minimum. A high intake of sugar will also cause you to age more rapidly, through the process known as glycation, where sugar binds to protein in your bloodstream.
Another key biomarker to keep an eye on is C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is one of the best predictors of all-cause mortality (remember, that means death). It is a general way to determine the level of inflammation in your body, and a test is available (for not very much money). Coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke – these are all correlated with poor results from a C-reactive protein test.
What The American Diet Does To You
The American diet does a lot of negative things to our health – bad cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity. But it also increases our level of visceral fat, raises our Ha1c, and contributes to inflammation. The Paleo diet, by contrast, will help with all of these biomarkers, and will also help you to feel healthier, sleep better, and exercise more efficiently.
If the finger of blame for lots of visceral fat goes to any one culprit, it has to be sugar. The American diet is very high in sugar, and this is a huge problem when it comes to body weight and visceral fat. Eliminating all sugar is probably the single most important step in avoiding the ills associated with lots of visceral fat. When one cuts down on sugar, and replaces those calories with real foods, everything starts to fall into place in regards to our health.
There are no ‘magic bullet’ supplements for visceral fat, though there are some that may help you stick to a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Alpha lipoic acid is an excellent supplement for blood sugar regulation, as well as being a potent antioxidant that can get into every cell, since it is both fat and water-soluble. It’s a must-have for anyone looking to decrease their level of visceral fat.
A probiotic (preferably one that is broad spectrum, with soil based organisms) supplement is also a must-have here. By helping to replicate the good bacteria in our guts, we are improving many aspects of our health, all of which help to combat visceral fat. Gut health is also correlated with mental health, so a probiotic will be doing more than just improving your visceral fat situation.
If one wants to eat a plethora of fermented foods, you can avoid supplementing with a probiotic. However, it must be a near-constant supply, and I simply do not like the taste of sauerkraut that much! But make no mistake about it, a probiotic can make a world of difference for health, and a Paleo diet will routinely include lots of fermented foods.
DHA is another essential supplement that one should seek out if looking to avoid and/or lessen visceral fat. The most bioavailable of all the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA plays a key role in metabolic function, as well as neurological health. It also helps you to avoid an inflammatory state (remember our friend C-reactive protein?)
It is best to eat wild-caught fish 5 times per week, as these fish will often have enough DHA for a healthy person. However, it may be beneficial to supplement with DHA as well, in the amount of about 1 gram per day. Remember to check with your doctor before taking any of these supplements.
The same standard advice that those wishing to achieve better health often hear will apply to this audience, as well. If you are looking to lose visceral fat, simply eat well, exercise, and sleep! It doesn’t get any simpler than that. However, just because this advice is simple, doesn’t mean that it is easy to implement into our daily lives. Prioritize your health, and you’ll begin to lower your risk for disease and death. You are worth it!