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The #1 Cause of Subcutaneous Fat, Say Experts

Here's how to manage this important fat.

Visceral fat (a.k.a. belly fat) is a particularly dangerous type of body fat with a number of health risks. But excess body fat anywhere is not good news. Subcutaneous fat—the type of body fat that lies under the skin, which you can grab or pinch—can also be excessive and cause problems. What causes subcutaneous body fat? And how do you know if you have too much of it? 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.


What Is Subcutaneous Fat?

Visceral fat and subcutaneous fat that accumulate around waistline of woman.

There are two kinds of body fat: Subcutaneous and visceral (abdominal fat that lies under the muscle). Although visceral fat is more dangerous—it's associated with more severe health outcomes—"the nature of the cells themselves—there's only a slight difference. So a fat cell in the visceral space, like within the abdominal cavity is similar in function and form to the fat cells on the outside of the belly, the type that you can pinch and jiggle," says metabolic disorders expert Dr. Benjamin Bikman on Jesse Chappus' Ultimate Health Podcast, "but the fat cells in the visceral space are much more lipolytic. So at any given moment, they're burning, they're releasing and breaking down fat at a much higher rate than fat cells in the subcutaneous fat tissue. So to put that another way, the body is always more determined to break down visceral fat than this subcutaneous fat."

Both types of fat contribute to overall body weight, after all, and therefore overweight or obesity.

A new study published this week in JAMA Network Open underlines that: Researchers found that having excess body fat (both subcutaneous and visceral fat) may increase your risk of reduced cognitive function. "Strategies to prevent or reduce adiposity [body fat] may preserve cognitive function among adults," the researchers wrote.


The #1 Cause of Subcutaneous Fat

Determining the amount of sebum on male abdomen using medical caliper.

The amount of subcutaneous fat you have is largely determined by genetics. But one contributor to the development of subcutaneous fat is excess glucose consumption, said Dr. Bikman. He pointed to studies where subjects were given drinks consisting of glucose and fructose; the fructose group tended to put on more visceral fat, while the glucose group put on more subcutaneous fat.


What Is Glucose?

Abnormal high results of lipid profile and blood sugar test with blood sample tube

Glucose is the main source of blood sugar. It's formed from all the food we eat and is the main source of energy for the body. When overall blood glucose levels are chronically too high, the body can become resistant to insulin, the hormone that helps the body's cells utilize glucose for energy. Over time, diabetes can develop. 

Carrying too much visceral and subcutaneous fat has other risks, too, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and dementia. 


How to Reduce Your Glucose Consumption


Glucose is the simplest carbohydrate there is—it's a monosaccharide, formed from one sugar. So a good way to reduce your glucose consumption is to cut down on foods with added sugar, refined grains, processed foods and fast foods.


How Do You Know If You Have Too Much Subcutaneous Fat?

Overweight woman in tight clothes at home is trying to fit into tight jeans.

Specialized tests can measure your levels of subcutaneous fat. But you can tell if you have too much subcutaneous fat if your clothes are starting to get tight and your weight is creeping out of a healthy range. Generally, you're at increased risk for health problems from excess body fat if your waist measures more than 35 inches if you're a woman, and more than 40 inches if you're a man.

Consuming more calories than you burn, and being too sedentary, are both associated with greater storage of subcutaneous fat. Experts including the American Heart Association recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, ideally spread throughout the week.

Excessive stress is also a risk factor: Stress causes the brain to produce elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that tells the body to hang on to fat. 

Not getting enough sleep can also lead to weight gain and increased fat storage. Poor sleep can throw the body's levels of the hormones leptin and ghrelin out of whack. They control how hungry you get, and how full you feel once you've eaten. When those levels are disturbed, it can be easier to overeat. So stay on top of these issues, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael