Recently, Axios took a poll of Americans asking them what they perceive as the greatest threat to U.S. public health. The opioids/fentanyl crisis ranked first with a score of 26% but ranked second, with a score of 23%, was obesity. The pandemic caused a surge in obesity rates due to lockdowns, school and business closures, and increased stress, it was the perfect storm whetting our appetites to turn to food for comfort, and we weren’t eating celery and carrot sticks.
What is the most dangerous fat in the human body?
What has resulted since then is more people are carrying around a type of fat, located in our abdomen, known as visceral fat. The other name most of us jokingly call this type of fat is belly fat. Visceral or belly fat is the most dangerous fat within your body. It surrounds internal organs located in the abdomen and has a strong propensity to harm your health. Overtime, visceral fat can influence a cascade of chronic inflammation that circulates from head to toe, wrecking havoc on your health. Chronic inflammation is a big problem and well-known for being a major threat to the development of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Why is visceral fat dangerous to our health?
What makes visceral fat so dangerous? It’s a metabolically active form of fat meaning it can produce hormones along with signaling molecules that taunt the body’s response to inflammation. This taunting by metabolically active visceral fat can cause an overproduction of cytokines (that trigger inflammation) and can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes and also spikes inflammation leading to a viscous cycle of more cytokines and other inflammatory molecules.
We have another type of fat called subcutaneous fat located directly under our skin which stores energy and accounts for 90 percent of body fat. Subcutaneous fat is a relatively harmless fat and does not cause inflammation. Visceral fat, however, lies deep amongst our internal organs providing energy and insulation, but is harmful to our health.
What steps can we take to rid visceral fat before it ruins our health?
There are three effective ways to reduce visceral fat helping reduce fanning the flames of inflammation, and in turn, reducing the risk of deadly chronic diseases.
Let’s take a look at the three steps to take:
1. Eat a healthy diet
We have been advised time and time again to consume more foods that promote good health and fewer foods that promote disease. However, most of us tend not to follow this crucial advice.
To effectively combat obesity rates in the United States, it is essential to eliminate unhealthy foods from our diets. The key to a healthy diet is consuming whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy, nuts and seeds, and beans and lentils. Conversely, limiting intake of foods with low nutritional value is important, including processed foods, sugary beverages and snacks, and foods high in saturated fat.
Science backs up the notion that nutrient-rich foods really are what all of us should be choosing to eat. For instance, research published in the International Journal of Obesity found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains was associated with lower visceral fat. But, diets high in fried foods, alcohol, red meat, sugary beverages, and refined grains has a strong link to increased levels of visceral fat and a larger waist circumference.
2. Be physically active by including both aerobic exercise and strength training
If we want to mobilize stubborn visceral around our bellies, we must move our bodies more. Researchers have found that people who regularly engage in moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise have the best chance of reducing visceral fat.
Another study published in Advances in Nutrition, found that aerobic exercise and resistance training are effective methods for losing abdominal fat. It’s the combination of combining the two that appears to make a significant difference.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve exercised, check with your doctor first and then start slowly, gradually building up intensity over time. Find a form of aerobic exercise you enjoy such as hiking, bicycling, swimming, or playing tennis and lift weights 2-3 times each week.
3. Get a good night’s sleep and avoid alcohol
Here are two other lifestyle factors that can also help reduce abdominal fat – plenty of sleep and significantly reducing or avoiding altogether alcohol.
Lack of sleep has been recognized as a strong contributor to overall obesity. Studies have found that people who are getting inadequate sleep may have an 11 percent increase in visceral compared to those who are adequately rested.
In regards to alcohol consumption, another study from the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found that drinking alcohol is associated with higher levels of visceral fat. In addition, drinking 14 or more standard drink sizes each week can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome.
Reducing visceral fat is not a quick fix and requires dedication and hard work. By making healthy choices such as exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep, and avoiding alcohol, we can improve our overall health and reduce inflammation, including the dangerous visceral fat in our bodies. It’s important to remember that good health doesn’t come naturally and requires effort on our part.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.