The harmful fat

Keeping Tabs

The harmful fat

One of the most popular New Year resolutions is to lose flab. But visceral fat is the one that needs attention, warns Vandana Luthra

All abdominal fat is not created equal. While we generally view abdominal fat as a single type of tissue, in reality it is two very distinct types: visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is the hidden fat, which lies deep inside the abdomen, surrounding vital organs like the liver, heart, intestines and kidneys.

Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, lies outside the abdominal wall, just under the skin. It is also the fat which appears in the lower body — that is, hips, buttocks and upper thighs.

While we fuss over our “flab”, squeezing and pinching it all the time, it is the lesser evil of the two. The dangerous bit is the visceral component of the abdominal fat, which is associated with serious health issues.

A major impact is a condition called insulin resistance where there is reduced sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that helps glucose enter the body’s cells, thus making sugar levels in the blood rise, leading to diabetes. Insulin resistance is, in fact, the main reason for diabetes amongst Indians.

Difficult to measure

Given that it is “hidden”, visceral fat is difficult to measure using traditional methods. Precise measurement of abdominal fat content requires the use of expensive radiological imaging techniques.

Also, the radiation exposure involved with radiological imaging limits the number of measurements. A 2012 research by the InterAct Consortium revealed that waist circumference is a better predictor of an individual’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes than body mass index (BMI) or waist-to-hip ratio.

Obese men, whose BMI is greater than 35 kg/m2 and have a waist circumference that is greater than 102 cm have been reported to be 22 times more likely to develop diabetes than men with low normal BMI of 18.5-22.4 kg/m2 and waist circumference that is less than 94 cm.

Obese women with a waist circumference of more than 88 cm were 31.8 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women with normal weight and waist circumference less than 80 cm.

Visceral fat accumulation has also been shown to cause impaired glucose metabolism, lipid disorders and increased blood pressure. All of these come under the umbrella term known as metabolic syndrome. People with this condition are at increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Excess visceral fat has been reported as a key in the biological mechanism leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In a study, it was found that visceral fat was associated with liver inflammation in patients with NAFLD. For one per cent rise in visceral fat, the liver inflammation was likely to increase 2.5 times.

Indians are known to be more prone to visceral fat than people in the West. An effective way deal with this is to help individuals reshape their nutritional habits and physical activity in a scientific manner.

It is critical to monitor changes in waist size. By targeting visceral fat specifically and aiding better weight management, one can reduce the chances of metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart ailments.

(The author is founder, VLCC)

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