Do you feel your clothes tighter at the belly? What if we tell you that the problem is much bigger? Understanding this is extremely important in your weight loss journey.
What Is Visceral Fat?
Did you know that visceral fat makes up about one-tenth of all the fat stored in your body?
You can find most of the fat stored under the skin in the body. This fat is known as subcutaneous fat. This is the fat you can see and feel when you pinch the skin. The rest of the fat in your body is hidden. Visceral body fat is also called hidden fat because it is stored deep in the abdomen, wrapping up your organs, including the liver and intestines. It is visceral fat that hangs to your belly and protrudes to give it the shape of an "apple."
It wouldn’t have been worrisome if it was all about the fat being stored there. The stored fat triggers some harmful chemical reactions and releases hormones that can be toxic to the body. Hidden fat releases these substances in large amounts rather than producing fat under the skin, so it becomes more dangerous. Even in thin people, a higher percentage of visceral fat carries a number of health risks.
What Causes Visceral Fat?
Body stores fat that is not consumed. If you consume too many calories and do minimum physical activity, a large amount of fats remains unutilized. This remaining fat is stored in the body. Some people tend to store fat around the belly rather than the hips due to their genes. This is why it is so difficult to lose weight in your 30s.
In women, aging can change the pattern in which the body stores fat. Especially after menopause, women's muscle mass decreases, and their fat increases. Age and genetics also play a key role in the development of visceral fat. Aging works differently for women. They are more likely to store their body fat as visceral fat in the abdomen, even if they don't gain weight. Drinking alcohol can also increase belly fat in men. However, it can be equally harmful to everyone.
Health Risks of Visceral Fat
What is the function of fat cells? Do they only store excess energy? No, they do more than that. They also produce hormones and inflammatory substances.
Visceral fat cells are particularly active throughout the day. It produces different inflammatory markers such as IL-6, IL-1β, PAI-1, and TNF-α. Over time if the body keeps on releasing such hormones, it can promote long-term inflammation, which increases the risk of chronic disease.
One of the most experienced phenomena is heart disease. Prolonged inflammation can cause fat plaques to build inside the arteries, which becomes a major risk factor for heart disease. So what is plaque? It is a combination of cholesterol and other fatty substances which accumulated inside arteries. It increases in size over time and can eventually burst due to pressure. If this happens, the blood in the arteries coagulates. This, in turn, interrupts the blood flow or blocks it completely. If this takes place inside the coronary arteries, it can form a clot and deprive the heart of oxygen. This is what exactly happens in a heart attack.
According to the experts, the portal theory could explain this phenomenon better and give a clearer answer to why visceral fat is harmful. Visceral fat releases, not just inflammatory markers but also free fatty acids. These chemicals travel through the portal vein flowing in the blood to the liver. Blood is carried in portal veins from the intestines, pancreas, and spleen than to the liver. This is how such harmful chemicals get to these vital organs and accumulates as fats in the liver. It can potentially lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
The other disease that visceral belly fat can cause are:
- liver disease
- high blood pressure
- diseases of the gallbladder and gout
- lumbar back pain
- fertility problems
How to Measure Visceral Fat?
Without expensive imaging tests, there is no way to find out where and how much visceral fat is there. Even when you start to notice weight loss, you might still have visceral fat hidden in your body. It is unlikely that you will ever need it but first, let’s go for the basics.
The easiest way to get a rough estimate is by measuring your waistline. Wrap a measuring tape around your abdomen at the waist (No! Not that tight). If the tape measures thirty-five inches or more, this is a sign of visceral fat in women. While for men, it is 40 inches only. After this, look in the mirror and observe the areas where your body tends to store fat. If you have an apple on your belly - a large torso and leaner legs – it hints towards visceral fat. This body shape is found more in men, whereas women usually have pears-shaped bellies with larger hips and thighs. However, it is found that upper body fat is more dangerous to health, which may be one of the reasons women usually live longer than men.
Now let’s back our findings with science. Have you heard about BMI (Body mass index)? It is the ratio of how much your weight is in relation to your height. Online calculators can help you to do the math. BMI 30 or higher is counted as overweight. This is an obvious sign of visceral fat.
The right way to check the exact amount of visceral fat you have is through imaging scans. If your doctor suggests you get your CT scan or MRI test done, then go for it. It will help you to check your other medical conditions. This is how you can get a detailed picture of your visceral fat.
If you are a man and you find out your waist is larger than 40 inches, or if you are a woman and you find out your waist is larger than 35 inches, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to discuss possible health risks. Your doctor may ask you to carry out certain tests such as blood tests or an electrocardiogram (ECG or ECG) to check for the health risks associated with high visceral fat.
How Do You Get Rid of Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat is extremely susceptible to:
- Other lifestyle changes for maintaining an average weight
With every pound you lose, you lose some visceral fat.
1. Low Carb Diet Can Help
A diet low on carbohydrates is an effective way to reduce visceral fat. In fact, low-fat diets are more effective in reducing visceral fat than low-fat diets. In an 8-week study of 69 overweight men and women, researchers found that a low-carb diet can help you lose 10% more visceral fat and 4.4% more total fat as compared to being on a low-fat diet.
A ketogenic diet can also help reduce visceral fat since it is low on carbohydrates. This helps the body to utilize the stored fat. The body gets into a natural metabolic state called ketosis. As per the study conducted on overweight and obese adults, those on a ketogenic diet lost more fat, particularly visceral fat, than those on a low-fat diet. Interestingly, they did this when they ate around 300 calories a day.
2. Take Out Your Joggers and Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is a great way to stay healthy, keep yourself fit, and yes! Get rid of visceral fat. It is commonly called cardio, and it burns a lot of calories. Aerobic exercise can make it a lot easier for you to lose visceral fat. This has been proven by a study. In different cases, it has done wonders even without a diet.
For example, an analysis of 15 studies involving 852 people compared how different types of exercise reduced visceral fat without dieting. They found that mild, high-intensity aerobic exercise was more effective in reducing visceral fat without dieting.
This means that combining regular aerobic exercise with a healthy diet is more effective at targeting visceral fat than when exercising alone. If you want to start aerobic exercise, start with a brisk walk, jog, or at least two or three times a week.
3. More Fiber, less Fat
There are two types of fibers found in nature: soluble and insoluble. The soluble species is mixed with water to form a viscous gel. This helps slow down the supply of digested food from the stomach to the intestines.
When soluble fiber enters the large intestine, it is fermented with intestinal bacteria into short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are the main source of nutrition for the colon cells. Interestingly, they can also help reduce visceral fat by suppressing appetite. According to the studies, short-chain fatty acids help increase the levels of full-length hormones such as cholecystokinin, GLP-1, and PYY.
They can also help reduce the ghrelin level of hormone starvation. A study of 1,114 people found that simply increasing soluble fiber intake by 10 grams per day reduced the risk of visceral fat growth by up to 3.7%. You can eat more flax seeds, sweet potatoes, legumes, and grains to increase your intake of fiber. If that doesn’t sound feasible, then try a soluble fiber supplement.
4. Proteins and Pounds
Protein is the most important nutrient for breaking down fat. Eating more protein can help fight hunger by increasing the levels of the fullness hormones GLP-1, PYY, and cholecystokinin. It can also help reduce the ghrelin level of the hormone starvation. Studies have shown that protein can also help boost metabolism, which in turn promotes weight loss and visceral fat loss.
It has been proven by studies that people consuming more protein tend to carry less visceral fat. A study of 23,876 adults showed that higher protein intake was associated with lower BMI, higher "good" HDL cholesterol, and smaller waist circumference, a marker of visceral fat.
You can add a protein source to each meal to increase your protein intake. Some excellent sources include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, and whey protein.
5. Cut Down on Added Sugars
Added sugar is very unhealthy. It provides no vitamins or minerals, and excessive consumption will lead to nothing except weight gain.
According to experts, people on added sugars tend to have more visceral fat. The added sugar contains about 50% fructose, a simple sugar that is metabolized in the liver. In large quantities, fructose in the liver can turn into fat. This can increase the storage of visceral fat. Eating less added sugar and fructose could therefore be an effective way to lose visceral fat. For example, in a study of 41 children between the ages of 9 and 18, researchers replaced the fructose in their diet with starch, which provides the same calories.
This simple change can help you reduce liver fat by 3.4% and visceral fat by 10.6% in ten days only. How to go about it? Reduce your added sugar intake. Eat more whole foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and fish. Yeah, it's that simple.
6. Say No To Drinking
Drinking small amounts of alcohol, especially red wine, can have health benefits.
However, drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Drinking too much alcohol can promote the accumulation of fat in the form of visceral fat. A study of 8,603 Korean adults found that people who drank the most alcohol also had the largest waist circumference, a sign of visceral fat.
Another study in 87 women found that moderate alcohol intake was also associated with carrying more visceral fat. However, there are only a few studies on this topic. Further studies will help clarify the relationship between alcohol intake and visceral fat.
7. Say No Trans Fats
If there's one thing health professionals agree on, it's that trans fats are bad for your health. It is a man-made type of fat created by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oils. Trans fats do not deteriorate quickly and have a longer shelf life. Therefore, they are added to processed foods such as pastries and chips.
Trans fats can increase visceral fat and cause a number of health problems. In a six-year study, monkeys were fed a diet high in artificial trans fats or monounsaturated fats. Monkeys on a trans-fat diet gained 33% more visceral fat, although they received a similar number of calories.
Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration has highlighted the side effects of consuming trans fats. It has given food manufacturers three years since 2015 to phase out trans fats from food or to apply for special approval.
8. Nights Are Not for Parties
A good night's sleep can work wonders with your health. However, studies show that more than a third of Americans don't get enough sleep.
According to recent studies, lack of sleep can increase the risk of increasing visceral fat. Conversely, increasing sleep can help reduce visceral fat. A six-year study of 293 people found that prolonging sleep from 6 hours or less to 7-8 hours reduced visceral fat gain by about 26%. Additionally, some studies also prove a link between sleep apnea, a condition that makes breathing worse, with a higher risk of gaining visceral weight.
If you're trying to get enough sleep, try getting some rest before bed or take a magnesium supplement.
9. Manage Your Stress
Stress and anxiety are common problems found in a lot of people. Stress stimulates your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, a stress hormone. With excess stress, cortisol can increase the accumulation of visceral fat.
Additionally, ongoing stress can increase overeating, which can make the problem worse. Women who already have a wider waist than the hips, a sign of visceral fat, tend to produce more cortisol under stress. Some good stress reduction strategies include exercising, practicing yoga or meditation, or spending more time with friends and family.
10. Probiotics are Essential
Probiotics are live bacteria that can benefit the gut and digestive health. Probiotics, especially Lactobacillus gasseri, can help you lose visceral fat. They are found in supplements and foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and natto.
Some studies suggest that some probiotics can help you lose weight and visceral fat. They can reduce the absorption of dietary fat in the intestine and increase its amount in the stool.
Additionally, probiotics can help promote higher levels of GLP-1, the complete hormone, and ANGPTL4, a protein that can help reduce fat accumulation.
According to the studies, some probiotic bacteria from the Lactobacillus family, such as Lactobacillus amylovorus, Lactobacillus fermentum, and especially Lactobacillus gasseri, can help you lose visceral fat.
For example, a study of 210 healthy Japanese adults looked at the effects of taking Lactobacillus gasseri for 12 weeks. People taking Lactobacillus gasseri lost 8.5% visceral fat. However, once the participants stopped taking the probiotic, they regained all visceral fat within a month.
Interestingly, some studies have shown that certain strains of probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, can actually lead to weight gain as well.
Research in this area is entirely new, so future studies will help clarify the link between probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus gasseri and visceral fat.
11. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a dietary model that involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. It is a proven way to lose weight.
Unlike the diet, intermittent fasting does not restrict meals. It simply focuses on when and what to eat. Adhering to an intermittent eating style will generally result in you eating fewer meals and fewer calories. In fact, experts are claiming that adhering to an intermittent fasting diet helped reduce visceral fat by 4-7% for 6-24 weeks.
What You Need to Know
Losing visceral fat takes time and effort. A low carbohydrate diet and moderate exercise will help you get rid of excess fat in the middle of the body. Active work on visceral fat loss and a more active lifestyle will benefit you in the long run. Everyone has some visceral fat, and having some belly fat doesn't necessarily mean you need to lose weight