Why excess belly fat is especially harmful
There are a lot of habits and foods that can increase our waistlines, but visceral fat is a particular kind of fat that’s particularly dangerous to overall health.
Visceral fat, or excess belly fat, is a deeper fat that affects the functioning of hormones and has been linked to increased risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“It appears like a gelatinous substance and will contribute to extra inches around your waist,” said Dr. Cynthia Reed, a Family Medicine Physician at Memorial Regional Health Medical Clinic. “Visceral fat is especially dangerous, because these accumulated extra fat cells are associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, diabetes, depression, sleep disorders and sexual dysfunction.”
Visceral fat is toxic in the human body because it disrupts normal function and results in chronic inflammation, which can interfere with normal hormonal functioning, Reed said.
Dr. Gerald Myers, a cardiologist and internal medicine physician at Memorial Regional Health, said visceral fat can act almost like its own organ due to its capability of having such a large impact on the body.
Why visceral fat matters
The Harvard Medical School reports that, for most people, about 90 percent of fat is what’s called subcutaneous, the kind that lies in a layer just beneath the skin and feels soft if you poke your belly. The remaining 10 percent is the visceral or intra-abdominal fat, which lies out of reach, beneath the firm abdominal wall.
“It’s found in the spaces surrounding the liver, intestines, and other organs. It’s also stored in the omentum, an apron-like flap of tissue that lies under the belly muscles and blankets the intestines. The omentum gets harder and thicker as it fills with fat,” according to Harvard Medical School. “Although visceral fat makes up only a small proportion of body fat, it’s a key player in a variety of health problems.”
When there’s too much glucose in the bloodstream and cells already have filled glycogen stores, glucose is stored as fat, Myers said. It happens more quickly when consuming refined processed carbohydrates — such as white bread, pasta and white rice — and high-sugar foods. These foods are converted into simple sugars that enter the bloodstream and trigger a larger release of insulin from the pancreas, he said.
“The result is usually weight gain, plus even more hunger, which leads to continued overeating and a vicious cycle that makes it hard to stop eating sweets,” he said.
A 2016 American Heart Association study published in its journal, Circulation, found that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages every day is associated with an increase in visceral fat, thus linking sugary drinks to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best approach to avoiding or getting rid of visceral fat, Reed said. This includes eating fresh, not processed or sugary, foods, exercising regularly and avoiding excessive alcohol intake.
“It is also recommended that individuals with known visceral fat and comorbid chronic disease states see their physicians before embarking on a strenuous exercise regimen,” Reed said. “It is also noteworthy that a combination of both regular cardiovascular exercise, combined with regular resistance training, appears to be more effective than either exercises are on their own for combatting and controlling abdominal obesity.”
Some years we finish up the calving season with one or two bottle calves here at Pipi’s Pasture; some years we don’t have any. The “not any” years are lucky years because feeding a bottle calf is an expensive business, and it means an extra chore, too.