The Most Dangerous Kind of Fat

There are two basic kinds of fat in the body – essential and storage fat. Essential fat is found in your liver, bone marrow, heart, lungs, and muscles. Storage fat is found under the skin, which is called subcutaneous fat and around internal organs, which is called internal fat.

Internal fat that surrounds organs like the stomach and intestines within the abdominal cavity is called visceral or intra-abdominal fat. It is also called deep belly fat or central fat.

Visceral fat is what makes a belly hard and firm as if a person swallowed a basketball. Soft tummies that have rolls of bilbil are mostly due to subcutaneous fat.

As unsightly as subcutaneous fat is, visceral fat appears to be more dangerous to your health according to current research. It is the type of fat that is highly associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and some kinds of cancer.

One theory is that visceral fat may release more inflammatory molecules that trigger these diseases than other types of fat. Researchers are still investigating the exact reason why deep belly fat is so hazardous to one’s health.

Waistline Measurement
A CT or MRI scan is the only way to determine accurately how much visceral fat you have. But a simple tape measure may be all you need to determine if your intra-abdominal fat is posing a risk to your health. People most at risk are men with waistlines bigger than 40 inches and women with waists bigger than 35 inches.

Endocrinologist K. George Thampy told the St. Louis Dispatch, “Men with a waist size larger than 40 inches have three times the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol”.

However, scientists don’t really know the exact waistline measurement that will protect your health. So even if your waistline is a few inches smaller than the borderline measurements, it would be safer to reduce it.

Older men and women should keep track of their waistline measurements because they can have large amounts of visceral fat even if they are of normal weight. Why this happens no one is sure but it could have something to do with hormones.

There is a tendency for both men and women to lay down more fat in the abdominal area than other parts of the body as they get older. Postmenopausal women who used to store fat in their hips, buttocks, and thighs end up with thickened waistlines due to an accumulation of visceral fat.

Stress Affects Visceral Fat
People under constant stress have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is suspected of playing a role in the accumulation of visceral fat. Another thing that raises cortisol levels is smoking. One study revealed that even lean women had excess visceral fat if they were under stress.

According to Pamela Peeke, a leading researcher in the field of women’s weight issues and the author of “Fight Fat After Forty”, three factors increase visceral fat in women: Poor lifestyle, declining levels of estrogen, and chronic stress.

Exercise Better than Dieting.
Studies indicate that losing weight and exercise are the best ways to reduce visceral fat. Dieting may not be as effective. A study done on obese diabetic postmenopausal women found that dieting alone had no effect on reducing visceral fat. Exercise alone and exercise plus dieting were the reducing strategies that worked. The women walked for fifty minutes three times a week. The researchers recommend walking briskly as if you are late for an appointment.

In another study, doing aerobic exercise classes for 45 minutes five times a week helped overweight postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 75 lose 3.4 to 6.9 percent of their visceral fat.

First Fat to be Lost During Exercise.
Many people notice that their clothes fit better after a couple of weeks of exercise even though they have not lost any weight. The standard explanation is that muscles are getting heavier while fat cells are getting smaller. But another reason could be that visceral fat is the first kind of fat to be lost through exercise.

Other studies have also indicated that exercise can improve blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels without weight loss. This could also be partly due to the loss of visceral fat through exercise.

Liposuction Does Not Work
Liposuction may seem to be the answer for those who are too lazy to exercise and want the easy way out to get rid of their visceral fat but unfortunately liposuction can only be done on subcutaneous fat.

A liposuction study showed that the operation had no health benefits in terms of improving cholesterol, triglyceride or sugar levels even though several pounds of subcutaneous fat were removed. This seems to confirm the theory that deep abdominal fat is more dangerous to the health than fat closer to the surface.

Experimental Operation
The “omentum operation” is an experimental surgery that is the opposite of liposuction. It has no cosmetic benefits because it does not remove fat under the skin but it may have health benefits because it removes a flap of deep abdominal fat called the omentum.

The omentum makes up about one-third of visceral fat and is the only part that is relatively easy to remove. The rest of visceral fat is deeply embedded in the abdominal cavity and is difficult to surgically remove, according to the surgeons involved in this experimental procedure.

So far, only four patients have undergone the operation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. A larger study is being planned.

Eat a lot, Exercise a Lot
According to a Japanese study, sumo wrestlers have normal levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar in spite of their large size and voluminous rolls of fat.

That’s because they don’t have much visceral fat due to several hours of exercise daily. Thus, sumo wrestlers have a lower incidence of type-2 diabetes compared to sedentary obese people. This has led Dr. Glenn Gaesser, author of “Big Fat Lies” to note, “The moral seems to be: If you’re going to eat a lot, then exercise a lot too.”

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