What is visceral Fat ?
Visceral fat (or ‘hidden fat’ as it is often referred to), is a different type of fat from other body fat. Also known as intra-abdominal fat, this fat lies deeper beneath the skin, and surrounds the body’s internal organs. It is also more difficult to lose than surface or subcutaneous fat that lies just beneath the epidermis.
Visceral fat cells are deep, active, fat storage cells. They release inflammatory agents knwon as ‘cytokines’, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), that contribute to chronic non-infectious systemic inflammation. Visceral fat also produces angiotensin, a chemical messenger that can elevate blood pressure by causing the constriction of blood vessels. Even small increases in visceral fat can result in damage to the endothelium, which is a thin protective layer of tissue within the blood vessels that separates the blood from the wall of the vessel.
Visceral fat is more dangerous than normal body fat
The soft surface fat that shows in ripples and cellulite on your thighs, buttocks, and hips (the pear shape) may make you look bad in your swimsuit or shorts, but it is actually a lot less dangerous than deep visceral fat. Because visceral fat wraps itself around the vital organs of the body, it can cause compression and inflammation of these organs.
This type of inflammation can lead to premature hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis, and risk of acute coronary syndrome. It is also a contributory factor in developing metabolic syndrome – a group of risk factors linked to obesity and weight gain that can lead to heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Visceral fat also causes concern because it is metabolized by the liver, which turns it into blood cholesterol. However the biggest danger related to Visceral fat is that it can go undetected as in many cases it is not visible from the outside of the body. Also this type of fat cannot be removed by liposuction.
How is visceral fat detected ?
The only way for doctors to determine how much visceral fat a patient is carrying is by a magnetic resonance imaging (mri) scan. This uses magnetic waves to form a three dimensional image of the interior of the abdomen, and allows the doctors to accurately determine the extent of visceral fat within the persons body and around the organs.
What causes visceral fat (and how to avoid it) ?
One of the prime causes is excessive body weight gain, so maintaining an optimal body weight by calorie restriction, and exercise, is key to preventing the build up of visceral fat.
Keep in mind that this type of fat is more difficult to eliminate from the body, and cannot be removed by liposuction, so prevention is much better than attempting to cure.
Other risk factors are aging, diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excesive alcohol consumption and hormonal factors. The good news is that even modest reductions in visceral fat can help to reverse its adverse effects.