Within our bodies lurks a silent, active and extremely dangerous assassin called Inner fat. It goes under a number of aliases – Abdominal fat, or Active fat, or Visceral fat, as it is known in medical circles. Visceral fat is quite bulky and hides out of reach, deep inside the abdominal cavity, where it occupies the spaces between the abdominal organs, and from where it launches a quiet onslaught on our bodies. Visceral fat is assisted by a partner in crime, Subcutaneous fat.
The relationship between these two partners:
Visceral fat (“Inner fat”) is a potential killer that lurks deep within the abdominal cavity, padding the spaces between the abdominal organs, such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. As it accumulates, the waistline grows, and it is in effect this bulk that causes the typical appearance of middle age spread. While it is largely hidden, surrounding internal organs, it is not truly invisible – because you can tell if you have too much of it by checking your waistline. Subcutaneous belly fat on the other hand is easily spotted by pinching the skin between your fingers, and is found directly under the skin of the abdominal area.
The enemy within:
Inner fat (visceral fat) plays a major role in a variety of health problems, much more so than subcutaneous fat, and has been linked, amongst others, to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic disturbances. The larger the store of inner fat, the greater one’s waist circumference.
The assassin’s modus operandi:
- · Research has indicated that visceral fat cells are biologically far more active than other fat cells – producing hormones and growth factors that can affect our health.
- · Visceral fat cells produce immune system chemicals called cytokines, that increase inflammation in your body. These cytokines and other hormones released by visceral fat cells decreases sensitivity to insulin, increases blood pressure, and promotes blood clotting – thus increasing risk for cardiovascular disease.
- · Visceral fat cells release these hormones and various growth factors into the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver. In addition these visceral fat cells release free fatty acids that enter the portal vein and end up in the liver and pancreas. Thus visceral fat is linked with insulin resistance, as well as higher levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
- · Visceral fat not only releases fatty acids into the blood stream, but also powerful hormones called adipokines. Over time some adipokines start to damage the interior of blood vessel walls, while other adipokines blunt the response of body cells to insulin. This leads to increasing insulin resistance and inability of the body to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
- · Visceral fat also negatively influences the metabolism of sex hormones. It removes male testosterone from the bloodstream and converts it to the female sex hormone estrogen, leading to a decline in sexual performance.
- · Visceral fat cells act as docking sites (receptors) for the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. Chronically high stress levels leads to higher production of cortisol, which in turn increase the activity and secretion of visceral fat cells.
How to fight this assassin:
- · Regularly monitor your waist circumference – a more vital number than your weight.
- · Healthy balanced eating – two-thirds plant material, only one-third animal
- · Regular moderate-intensity exercise.
For further information on fighting this silent assassin, please consult various Health Insight blogs on these topics. (ww.healthinsight.co.za)
Abdominal fat and what to do about it. Updated online 9 October 2015. Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.
Waist circumference – what is all the fuss about? Article by Prof Nola Dippenaar, published in Health and Wellbeing magazine, Winter 2007.
Waist circumference – a vital health measurement. Article by Prof Nola Dippenaar, published in Performance Pro magazine. Jan/Feb 2008.