What is Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat is excess body fat stored in the abdominal cavity. This type of fat is hazardous because it surrounds important organs such as the liver, intestines, and pancreas. It is also known as ‘active fat’ because it is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat produces hormones and chemicals that can cause severe harm and affect how our body functions, putting us at greater risk of diabetes or heart disease.
People who store high amounts of visceral fat have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, and even certain types of cancer.
Visceral fat is that it is often not visible because it sits within your abdominal cavity. A person may not appear overweight and still be carrying too much ‘hidden fat.’ Because it is not always obvious, visceral fat is often referred to as ‘skinny fat.’
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Subcutaneous or Visceral?
There are different types of fats that we store fat in the body. Subcutaneous fat under the skin is fat that you can pinch under your arms, on your stomach, and on the tops of your legs. In contrast, visceral fat is under the stomach muscles deeper inside the body.
What is often referred to as a “beer belly” is a combination of both visceral and subcutaneous fat. Because visceral fat is stored deep within the body, it goes unseen, enveloping our internal organs padding out the spaces between them.
Why is Visceral Fat so Dangerous?
Visceral obesity is estimated to affect over 20% of the global adult population. It is also considered the main predominant risk for metabolic syndrome, with some estimates saying that 50% of the world’s population will be obese by 2030. Therefore, it is highly likely that metabolic syndrome will become (and is becoming) the most significant drain on healthcare worldwide.
Many studies show that visceral fat is far worse for your health than subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat has a higher concentration of cells and carries more blood flow and more receptors for hormones. Visceral fat is also more biologically active, meaning the fat cells produce hormones, aromatase protein (which converts testosterone into estradiol), and cytokines that cause inflammation around the body.
Visceral fat often affects the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestine to the liver, increasing fatty acids in the liver, affecting blood lipids production (including cholesterol and triglycerides). Visceral fat also increases levels of total cholesterol.
Exercise, diet changes, and hormone replacement therapy can reduce visceral obesity and have significant positive effects on your body and life expectancy.
Metabolic syndrome is a combination of a least three out of five clinical risk factors often caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. These are:
- Abdominal (visceral) obesity
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Elevated triglycerides (high ‘bad’ cholesterol)
- Low serum high-density lipoprotein (Low good cholesterol, HDL)
- Insulin resistance (leads to type 2 diabetes)
Visceral fat is at the top of the list of risk factors, often causing the subsequent factors. Everybody stores a certain amount of visceral fat, but developing metabolic syndrome, can cause a host of dangerous health conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and other disorders that affect the blood vessels.
How Can I Tell if I Have too Much Visceral Fat?
The only way to determine how much visceral fat you are storing is to have an MRI scan. However, this is an expensive procedure and not routinely used for this purpose. The usual method of diagnosis is to take waistline measurements; however, this is not particularly accurate. About 10% of your body fat is visceral fat so, if you are carrying too much fat overall, you are likely to have higher than safe amounts of visceral fat as well.
Women with a waistline over 35 inches and men over 40 inches are generally carrying excess visceral fat. If you’re of Asian descent, visceral fat measurement drops to 31.5 inches for women and 35.5 inches for men.
Why Does The Body Store Fat Around Organs?
Apart from eating too much and not getting sufficient exercise, scientists have connected stress and the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol to visceral fat storage.
Repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain via visceral fat storage. Cortisol can mobilize triglycerides (unused fat from what you eat) from fat storage and relocate them to visceral fat. Cortisol also aids adipocytes’ development into mature fat cells stored all over the body.
How do You Prevent Visceral Fat?
Overeating, unhealthy diet, and a lack of movement will increase fat levels and disrupt hormone levels, exasperating the problem. If you consume more calories than you burn, your body turns these extra calories into fat, storing the calories for use later on. Your body stores excess calories as fat, both subcutaneous and visceral.
Your body stores this fat within specialized fat cells called adipose tissue. More fat develops by enlarging fat cells, which are always present in the body, or by creating more of them.
So, the solution is to eat healthily, keep active, and not get too stressed.
- Exercise regularly: Burn those extra calories.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet: Avoid high fat and processed foods.
- Reduce stress levels: Cortisol directly increases your fat reserves.
- Reduce alcohol intake: Alcohol is full of calories and carbs; it lowers testosterone and lacks nutrients beneficial for a healthy metabolism and will, therefore, hasten fat storage.
- Don’t smoke
- Get plenty of sleep: A lack of sleep increases stress and, therefore, cortisol levels.
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Fat and Type 2 Diabetes
Research shows that visceral fat can cause insulin resistance and then glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes. It is common for obese people to develop type 2 diabetes. In fact, obese people are 80 times more likely to develop diabetes than others. People carrying high amounts of visceral fat are at risk of developing insulin resistance leading to glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes. Visceral fat releases a protein called retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4), which increases insulin resistance.
It is widespread for obese people to suffer from low testosterone and type 2 diabetes. Visceral fat slows testosterone production. The more fat you develop, the less testosterone your body produces, leading to a perpetual cycle. Low testosterone levels increase fat deposits, which slow testosterone production even further. Fat cells promote the creation of an enzyme called aromatase, which converts testosterone to estradiol. The more fat you put on, the more aromatase enzyme you produce, and the more testosterone converts into estradiol.
Visceral Fat and Your Hormones
Hormone imbalances caused by andropause can lead to an increase in visceral fat. Various complex processes are at work here, and your hormones are crucial to maintaining a healthy body weight.
Overweight men often have high levels of estrogen and low levels of testosterone. Testosterone actively increases muscle mass and decreases fat deposits, in particular visceral fat. By losing weight, testosterone levels in overweight and obese men will increase. Testosterone levels decrease with aging, so the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to reduce this fat. Supplementation with testosterone is recommended for patients to achieve optimum levels, making it easier to lose weight and gain lean muscle.
Estrogen is the result of a conversion from testosterone in the testicles, adrenal glands, and most importantly, from fat via aromatase conversion. Increased visceral fat increases the ‘speed of conversion’ from testosterone into estradiol (a type of estrogen) and causes an imbalance between these two hormones. Symptoms include all the typical signs of low testosterone levels including, weight gain (especially visceral fat), decreased muscle mass, low energy, decreased sexual desire, erectile dysfunction, and depression. Men experiencing this imbalance will significantly benefit from testosterone therapy, correcting the estradiol and testosterone imbalance, and making it far easier to lose visceral fat.
The thyroid and the hormones it produces play a pivotal role in your metabolism, including how your body breaks down fat and lowers dangerous cholesterol. Doctors often misdiagnose thyroid issues with other conditions such as low testosterone. If your thyroid isn’t functioning as well as it should, you may experience similar symptoms to low testosterone, such as fatigue and weight gain. For this reason, Male Excel doctors always check thyroid function and test other hormone levels like testosterone. Coupled with an analysis of symptoms, this allows for a complete analysis of a patient’s true hormone health. Our Doctors can then prescribe natural thyroid medication to enhance testosterone therapy for the best results.
Cortisol, also known as the ‘Stress Hormone,’ is produced in the adrenal glands. Its principal function is to metabolize glucose, fats, and proteins to respond to physical and psychological stress. However, if you are always stressed and your cortisol levels are constantly high, it has side effects; suppressing your immune system, causing depression, and even lowering testosterone levels. Due to symptoms caused by reduced testosterone, such as being overweight, lack of concentration at work, low body image, and poor sleep patterns, cortisol can increase and cause further problems. Cortisol also increases visceral fat by converting fat from other body areas into dangerous visceral fat. Testosterone replacement therapy increases mood and energy levels, helping patients reduce stress.
Aging, stress, hormones, and lifestyle factors all add to visceral fat development. Testosterone Replacement Therapy helps your body fight all the negative causes of this dangerous type of fat. It can, along with other lifestyle changes, reduce the visceral fat stored in your abdominal cavity (3), leading to a reduction in the risk of heart attacks, diabetes, stroke, and all the other associated risks attached to visceral fat.
Regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding saturated fat are all important parts of reducing the symptoms of aging. However, your hormones will decrease over time, making it much harder to reverse symptoms such as visceral fat.
Male Excel recommends measuring your hormone levels before any significant symptoms of andropause symptoms develop, but it is never too late to start your journey to optimal hormone health.
Start hormone replacement therapy today by completing our free hormone assessment.
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Studies and References:
Neeland IJ, Turer AT, Ayers CR, et al. Dysfunctional Adiposity and the Risk of Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes in Obese Adults. JAMA. 2012;308(11):1150–1159. doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11132