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Signs You Have "Toxic Fat" Strangling Your Organs

Here are signs of dangerous visceral fat.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Are you concerned about toxic fat surrounding your organs? Visceral fat is dangerous—but luckily it can be reduced. "Fat doesn't just store calories—it's a living tissue capable of producing and releasing hormones that affect your other organs," says Trinh Le, MPH, RD. "Because visceral fat sits near our organs, its release of these chemicals is poorly situated. Having more visceral fat can raise your LDL (a.k.a. 'bad' cholesterol) and blood pressure. Visceral fat can also make you less sensitive to insulin, which increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes." Here are five signs you have toxic fat surrounding your organs. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Measure Your Waist

Nutritionist inspecting a woman's waist using a meter tape

Experts say waist measurement could be a better indicator of health than BMI—and is a good indicator of visceral fat. Anything over 35 inches for women, or 40 inches for men, is considered problematic. "We found that women with bigger waists and waist-to-hip ratios face a greater excess risk of experiencing a heart attack than men who have a similar 'apple shape,'" says Sanne Peters, a researcher at the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. "More intensive screening for the risk and development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in individuals with an apple shape might help prevent the onset of disease, especially in women."


You Ingest Too Much Sugar

Coffee and Sugar Main Picture

Excess sugar intake is linked to dangerous visceral fat, researchers say. "When we consume too much sugar the excess is converted to fat and stored," says PhD student So Yun Yi, who co-authored a School of Public Health study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. "This fat tissue located around the heart and in the abdomen releases chemicals into the body which can be harmful to health. Our results support limiting added sugar intake."


Are You An Apple Or a Pear?

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

"You're probably wondering, 'What does fruit have to do with it?' These two fruits give a quick visual of where most of your fat is stored on the body," says Le. "Pears tend to store fat in the lower extremities (hips, thighs, buttocks) as subcutaneous fat while apples tend to store fat in the upper region (belly, chest) as visceral fat. It takes a quick inspection, but this is an imperfect way to tell these two fats apart."


You're Always Stressed Out

stressed woman

Chronic stress is terrible for your health, and strongly linked to abdominal fat. "Even if you're doing everything right in terms of a balanced diet and exercise, chronic stress can stop you from losing the weight around your midsection," says Dr. Jeffrey Donatello. "Exercise can improve your mood while lowering stress. However, working out too intensely can add stress and increase cortisol levels. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts about four days a week, and add in strength training on at least two days. Plus, you heat up when you work out. As the body temperature rises, your brain releases more endorphins which improve your mood. Although you might want to do all the ab exercises, they won't have any impact on visceral fat. Instead, strength training and mood-boosting moderate-intensity workouts will improve stress and provide overall weight loss."


You're a Smoker

no smoking sign

People who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop excess belly fat, experts warn. "One barrier to smoking cessation is the fear of weight gain and whilst smoking lessens weight overall, it tends to push fat more into the central area so waist circumference is preferentially higher," says Professor Naveed Sattar, of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow. "So, when smokers put on weight, they will show bigger tummies for the same weight gain than non-smokers and this may also be linked to their greater risk for diabetes."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan