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How You Gain Visceral Fat And Why It's Bad For You, Say Scientists

Here's how to reduce abdominal fat, from an expert who knows.

The majority of adult Americans are either overweight or obese. There has been a rapid increase in the rate of overweight and obesity across most population groups in the United States and worldwide. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, Ph.D., a professor of public health at New Mexico State University who explains various types of body fat with a focus on visceral fat. "Visceral fat is the fat wrapping the abdominal organs or accumulated deep inside the body. It is a hidden problem associated with many diseases", Khubchandani says. According to Khubchandani, given the high rates of obesity, most people would be able to feel the other kind of fat that is subcutaneous fat by pinching the skin or watching their waistline or tummy. Both types of fat are associated with each other, but visceral fat is considered more dangerous and linked with higher level of health problems. "Interestingly, the risk factors for fat accumulation are similar and fat accumulation is linked to adverse metabolic and cardiovascular risk profiles for both types of fat and total body fat," Khubchandani says while explaining the risk factors and impact of visceral fat. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Risk Factors: Unhealthy Diet and Inadequate Physical Activity

Obese woman laying on sofa with smartphone eating chips

Fat accumulates in our body when we consume too many calories or do not burn the calories consumed. "More than a third of American adults consume unhealthy food or do not get the recommended amount of exercise. The pandemic has further worsened these problems," Khubchandani says with his own studies showing increase in weight gain during the pandemic. Health agencies and experts suggest increasing physical activity and adding more water, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fiber, milk, yogurt, vitamins, and minerals to the diet. Khubchandani agrees, "people need to reduce the S like starch, sugar, salt, soda, saturated fat, sweets, size of meals, and sedentary behaviors to prevent the accumulation of visceral fat." He suggests that because visceral fat cannot be felt or seen, even those who believe they are not overweight may have visceral fat and need to be cautious about unhealthy diet (i.e. TOFI which indicates thin outside fat inside).

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Risk Factors: Stress and Sleeplessness

Stressed out woman

Stress has been consistently linked with a variety of health problems including weight gain. Stress in the society has been increasing rapidly with the pandemic, social, economic, and political upheaval. "One of the major impacts of the higher stress is greater consumption of unhealthy diet and inadequate physical activity leading to weight gain. Also, stress can directly impact the accumulation of visceral fat by increased secretion of hormones like cortisol," Khubchandani says. Similarly, poor sleep has been repeatedly linked to higher body fat. "Just like stress, inadequate or poor sleep can affect body function, metabolism, and secretion of hormones that impact visceral fat accumulation", Khubchandani adds and also mentions that long-term sleep disruption is associated with increased visceral and subcutaneous body fat. "Maintaining a sleep routine and managing stress are key to preventing accumulation of visceral fat," he suggests.

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Risk Factors: Alcohol and Tobacco Use


Assortment of Mixed Drinks

Alcohol use is one of the worst habits responsible for visceral fat accumulation. The vast majority of adult Americans have consumed alcohol at least once in their lifetime and nearly half drank in the past month. Visceral fat accumulation depends a lot on drinking habits (number of drinks, type of drink, duration of drinking, etc.). "When people drink a lot, many of our body organs are affected. For example, the liver starts burning alcohol instead of fat. Also, alcoholic drinks are rich in sugar and fat and promote unhealthy diet choices, leading to visceral fat accumulation," Khubchandani suggests. Smoking and body fat have a controversial relationship where many smokers believe that smoking helps weight loss and reduce hunger. "Even if smoking does not increase total body fat, it increases the accumulation of fat more towards the belly leading to visceral fat accumulation and increase the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and a variety of health problems," Khubchandani says.

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Impact: Heart Disease and Stroke

Man having a heart attack

Visceral fat accumulation can pose both short-term and long-term threats to survival and health. "Visceral fat accumulation causes systemic and vascular inflammation, abnormal metabolism, blockage or dysfunction of blood vessels, insulin resistance, among the many other problems that cause reduced blood flow to the brain and heart," Khubchandani says. Even in individuals who are not obviously obese or visibly overweight, visceral fat accumulation is linked to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular morbidity and mortality. According to Khubchandani, total body fat, visceral and subcutaneous body fat, and fat distribution should all be considered in estimating health risks.

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Impact: Other Diseases and Health Risks

Obese woman holding her belly fat with both hands.

Visceral fat is also linked to many other health problems such as risk of cancers, arthritis, pain disorders, gall bladder disease, Alzheimer's disease, liver and kidney disease. "Visceral fat accumulation does not immediately cause heart disease or stroke. It can cause these problems through high blood sugar or lipids, metabolic problems, and diabetes. Also, higher visceral fat can lead to adverse impact on physical, mental, and reproductive health through multiple different mechanisms," Khubchandani says. He advised that losing visceral fat can have multiple and interlinked health benefits by ensuring healthy metabolism, body structure, and organ function. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek
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