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Signs Visceral Fat is "Strangling Your Insides"

Learn what to know about visceral fat and three signs you have it. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

We all know that too much body fat is unhealthy, but did you know it can actually turn deadly?

Hidden deep in your abdomen is visceral fat and it coils around your organs causing serious health issues like stroke, diabetes, some cancers and more. Since you can't see it, feel it or touch it, chances are you don't know it's there, but it can kill you. So how do you know if you have it? Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who explain what to know about visceral fat and three signs you have it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Visceral Fat

Body fat analysis with electronic bioelectrical impedance scale at weight loss clinic.

Dr. Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA, Clinical Director at Evergreen Life and a medical expert with more than 42 years' experience as a general practitioner tells us, "Most of us know it's not healthy to be carrying excess body fat. But certain types of fat can be even more harmful than we may realize, especially if we develop too much of it. Visceral fat, which is stored around your organs, can contribute to a range of dangerous health conditions, such as heart disease, dementia and cancer. Visceral fat is essentially a build-up of intra-abdominal adipose tissue… Or, in simpler terms, it's fat that's stored deeper than normal belly fat. It wraps around your major organs, including the liver, pancreas and kidneys. Nasty stuff."

Joanna Wen, a certified weight loss coach with Spices & Greens shares, "Visceral fat is a type of fat that surrounds our organs and is stored in our abdominal area. The other type of fat we have is the subcutaneous fat that sits just under our skin. Visceral fat is the most dangerous type of fat in our body because of its proximity to our core organs and can increase your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions."

Kent Probst, personal trainer, kinesiotherapist and bodybuilder with Long Healthy Life adds, "It's important for people to do annual blood testing.  High levels of estradiol in men are associated with abdominal fat.  High levels of visceral fat, or abdominal obesity, is also associated with metabolic syndrome, a combination of lipid abnormalities, hypertension, and glucose intolerance." 


How to Measure Visceral Fat

Female doctor measuring waist of overweight woman with measuring tape in clinic

Dr. Fisher explains, "A CT or MRI scan is the only way to accurately and definitively diagnose visceral fat and if you have too much of it. However, these are costly and time-consuming scans and not easily available to everyone. Your GP can use general measurements and guidelines to estimate your visceral fat levels and the potential health risks. You can also buy bioimpedance scales to help measure visceral fat. These work by sending a small electrical current through your body when you step on the sensors, that measures the amount of resistance from body fat. These are available at a range of prices but can only give you an estimation of your body fat. But there are other simple and free ways you can estimate your visceral fat yourself."

Waist-hip ratio‍

Stand up straight and tall

Find and then measure the smallest part of your waist, this is usually located right above your belly button. This measurement is your waist circumference‍

Next, find and measure the widest part of your buttocks or hips. This measurement is your hip circumference‍

Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. The result you get is your waist-hip ratio

A 2008 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) cited a 2001 study, which stated that waist-to-hip ratio above .85 for women and .90 for men indicates abdominal obesity. There is a strong correlation between visceral fat and waist-hip ratio. So if your ratio is above those recommended levels, it's likely you'll have high visceral fat levels.

Waist-height ratio (WHtR)

You can also use the waist-height ratio (WHtR). This may be a more suitable method for people with Type 1 diabetes, according to a 2020 study. All you have to do is divide your waist circumference by your height. This can be done in either centimetres or inches, just make sure both are the same units. An ideal waist-height ratio is no greater than 50."


Causes of Visceral Fat

Man and woman holding their bellies while sitting on the bed suffering from extra weight.

Wen explains, "There are several factors that can contribute to visceral fat accumulation:

-Excessive alcohol intake: alcohol has also been shown in studies to suppress fat burning, and excess calories from alcohol are stored as belly fat, resulting in an unsightly beer belly.

-Imbalance In Gut Microbiome: studies have found that the gut microbiome of overweight individuals has specific bacteria that may increase the number of calories that are absorbed from food compared to normal weight individuals.

-Stress: when your body is under stress, it produces cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone", to respond to the stress. Unfortunately, excess cortisol can cause weight gain, and much of the extra calories end up going to the abdominal region due to this high level of stress hormone.

-People who are carrying around excess weight are more likely to have visceral fat. Additionally, older adults and postmenopausal women are also at greater risk."


You Have a Large Waist Circumference

shred belly fat

Wen says, "A waist size of 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men indicates an excess of visceral fat. This puts you at significant risk of heart disease and diabetes."


You Have a High Body Mass Index (BMI)

Woman shows excess fat of the waist while sitting on her sofa.

Wen explains, "Your body mass index, or BMI, is a measure of your body fat based on your height and weight. A BMI of 30 or above indicates that you are obese. This means that you have a higher than normal amount of body fat and likely an accumulation of visceral fat."


Your Blood Sugar Levels are Elevated

Woman checking blood sugar level while sitting on bench

According to Wen, "Having too much visceral fat can cause your body to become insulin resistant, meaning that your body doesn't effectively process sugar. This can lead to high blood sugar levels, which, over time, can damage your organs and lead to serious health problems."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather