I am a Doctor and Beg You to Lose Weight From Here, and Here's How
Visceral fat is a fatal health issue that isn't talked about enough outside of the health and medical community, but it should be. It's a deadly fat that's hidden deep in your abdomen and it coils around your vital organs. While some visceral fat is fine because it can protect your organs, too much causes health problems and has been linked to serious conditions like stroke, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and more.
Anyone can have visceral fat, no matter their body type and weight. It's caused by several factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, stress and lack of sleep. Unlike subcutaneous fat that you can see and touch, most people don't know they have visceral fat and therefore don't take steps to getting rid of it. But that can be harmful and dangerous to your health. "Visceral fat is associated with insulin resistance and an inflammatory state which can lead to metabolic complications such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease," Aleem Kanji, M.D. Ethos Endocrinology, PLLC tells us.
While visceral fat is incredibly unhealthy and increases the risk of several health issues, the good news is it's easier than subcutaneous fat to get rid of. According to Cleveland Clinic, "Visceral fat is actually easier to lose than subcutaneous fat. This is because it metabolizes quicker and your body can get rid of it as sweat or pee. If you start regularly exercising and eating a healthy diet, you should start to see results in two to three months." Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what to know about visceral fat and how to get lose it.
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What to Know About Visceral Fat
Dr. Naheed A. Ali, MD, PhD with USA RX explains, "Visceral fat is harmful. It's in the abdomen and surrounds organs (such as your liver and kidneys). Visceral fat causes greater health problems than other diet-related concerns. Visceral fat can stimulate diabetes-causing hormones. Heart health is affected. It harms blood vessels and cholesterol. It raises heart disease risk. It may cause liver damage. It may also induce other weight gains (such as on your arms or legs)."
Dr. Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead Treated.com says, "Visceral fat sits quite deep in the upper body, and when we have a lot of it, it can crowd some of our vital organs – like the liver, heart and lungs – and put pressure on them. This basically means that they can't work as well – so for example, the liver won't be able to filter out toxins at the rate it normally does. Our heart won't pump blood as well, and our lungs won't be able to reach full capacity so we won't be able to breathe as well. If you've got a lot of visceral fat, you're more likely to develop problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, and your risk of heart problems and stroke goes up. So it's important to try and limit visceral fat, to help minimize your risk of all the above."
How to Measure Visceral Fat
Dr. Atkinson tells us, "Measuring your waist is a good indicator (taking a tape measure and passing it over your belly button, instead of going off your trouser size). If you're a woman and your waist is over 35 inches, or if you're a man and your waist is over 40 inches, then you're probably in the riskier threshold. BMI won't tell you your visceral fat level per se, but if you're overweight (BMI of 25 or above) or obese (30 or above) then you may have an unhealthy amount of visceral fat. There are smart scales that can tell you what your body fat percentage is too – the unhealthy threshold is thought to be over 25% if you're a man and over 32% or if you're a woman. However, some studies like this one have found that smart scales can be inaccurate at measuring body composition."
Kent Probst, personal trainer, kinesiotherapist and bodybuilder with Long Healthy Life adds, "One sign that you may have too much visceral fat is if your Body Mass Index (BMI) is 25.0 – 29.9. BMI in this range puts the person at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension and cancer. One exception is that Asians develop health problems at lower BMIs. The BMI is also less accurate regarding people who have large amounts of muscle mass."
How to Tell if You're Losing Visceral Fat
Dr. Dev Batra Interventional Radiologist │ Owner and Founder │ Dallas Vein Institute explains, "There are a few different ways to tell if you're losing visceral fat. One way is to measure your waist circumference. If you're carrying a lot of visceral fat, you'll likely have a large waist circumference. Another way to tell is to measure your body fat percentage. If you're carrying a lot of visceral fat, you'll likely have a high body fat percentage. You can have a CT scan or MRI to directly measure the amount of visceral fat you have."
Dr. Kanji states, "Body composition techniques, such as dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), can aid in the monitoring of total body and visceral fat. These imaging techniques are costly and not widely available. More cost-effective and easily performed is waist circumference. It is a crude estimate with data to suggest correlation with visceral fat."
Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed. with TeleMDNow shares, "Changing hormone levels with age, weight gain, and chronic stress can all increase visceral fat. The best sign of too much visceral fat is to measure your waistline. If your waistline is 35 inches or more for women, or 40 inches or more for men, then you are at an increased risk. You cannot target visceral fat, so the best way to get rid of it is to reduce overall body fat and increase muscle mass."
Dr. Kanji adds, "Weight loss through lifestyle modifications leads to a reduction in visceral fat along with total body fat. There is available evidence to suggest the same correlated reduction with pharmacologic therapy."
Dr. Atkinson says, "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week (so for example, going for a jog or a brisk walk for 30 minutes, five times a week) in addition to muscle-strengthening on two days a week (for example lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises like push-ups). Keeping this up week after week can help you lose weight."
Dana Ellis Hunnes PhD, MPH, RD is a senior dietitian at UCLA medical center, assistant professor at UCLA Fielding school of public health, and author with Cambridge university Press, of the new book, RECIPE FOR SURVIVAL says, "Aerobic Exercise (not just spot exercises like abdominal crunches) enough that you're losing weight and building muscle. If you're burning enough energy/calories from exercise and healthy eating, you'll lose fat everywhere, including (eventually) from visceral fat too. It won't be the first fat you lose, but you will eventually lose it if you're eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight with exercise."
Cleveland Clinic says, "Stress activates a hormone in your body called cortisol. More cortisol activates your body's "fight-or-flight" response, which triggers the storage of more visceral fat. Try yoga or mediation to lower your stress level."
According to a Yale study, "Cortisol exposure can increase visceral fat-the fat surrounding the organs-in animals. People with diseases associated with extreme exposure to cortisol, such as severe recurrent depression and Cushing's disease also have excessive amounts of visceral fat. "Everyone is exposed to stress, but some people may secrete more cortisol than others, and may secrete cortisol each time they face the same stressor…We predicted that reacting to the same stressors consistently by secreting cortisol would be related to greater visceral fat."
A Healthy Diet Matters
Hunnes explains, "A healthy whole-foods, plant-forward diet high in fruits, veg, fiber, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, these are anti-inflammatory, high in fiber which can help cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation in the liver and other parts of the body as well. This can make you lose visceral fat, because if you're losing fat anywhere, you're ALSO losing fat there." Dr. Batra adds, "Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help to improve your metabolism and will also help to keep you feeling full."
Cleveland Clinic says, "A healthy diet includes lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables. Try to limit trans fats, refined sugars, sodium and processed foods. Low-carb diets such as the ketogenic (keto) diet can help reduce visceral fat by training your body to burn fat as fuel rather than carbs."