8 Ways To Burn Visceral Fat

Deep-seated visceral fat brings a whole new level of risk to underweight and overweight individuals. But what is visceral fat? Learn about the hidden dangers of having visceral fat and how to combat it.

By URLife Team
29 Jun 2023

Fat is mostly categorised as bad or unhealthy for your body, but that’s not the whole truth. There are some types of fat that are essential for your body’s functioning, and can help you live a healthier life. On the other hand, some types of fat, like visceral fat, can be unhealthy for your body, and understanding its impact on your body is key to preventing it.


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Body fat can be classified into brown, beige, and white fat. In terms of relative abundance in mitochondria, brown fat is the most abundant and white fat is the least. Unlike brown and beige fat, white fat is not capable of production of heat in the body (thermogenesis). Note that body fat in adult humans consists of mostly white fat, which is white adipose tissue, a predominant type of fat in the human body. It can be found beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat) and acts as a thermal insulator that helps maintain body temperature.


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As per a 2019 study issued in the Frontiers in Physiology, white fat can be further sub categorised into subcutaneous, visceral, and ectopic fat. Ectopic fat, which is the least in quantity, is located within the internal organs. The fat that surrounds the internal organs is generally considered as visceral fat. The epicardial fat and the abdominal visceral fat surround the myocardial (heart) and gastrointestinal organs, respectively, and are both considered as visceral fat.


Subcutaneous fat, which is more abundant in women, is located throughout the layer deep to the skin (hypodermis). According to 2023 findings in the Lancet, the prevalence of abdominal obesity in India was found to be 40 per cent in women and 12 per cent in men. The findings also show that 6 out of 10 women between the ages of 30–49 are abdominally obese. The association of abdominal obesity in women is stronger with older age groups, urban residents, wealthier sections, and non-vegetarians.


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What Is Visceral Fat?

Visceral fat, also known as intra-abdominal fat, is a type of body fat that is stored deep within the abdominal cavity, surrounding the internal organs such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which is found just beneath the skin, visceral fat is not easily visible or tangible. Visceral fat is considered to be more metabolically active and potentially harmful to health compared to subcutaneous fat. It produces various hormones and chemicals that can interfere with the body's normal functions. High levels of visceral fat have been associated with an increased risk of several health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer.


One of the reasons visceral fat is concerning is its association with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that include abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels. These conditions collectively raise the risk of developing chronic diseases.


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What Causes Visceral Fat?

When there is excess abdominal fat, it increases the risks for metabolic consequences of obesity, including fatty liver. The majority of “metabolically obese” patients who are of average weight have some increase in fatty tissue mass and insulin resistance, which is most likely caused by a rise in visceral fat.


Several factors contribute to the accumulation of visceral fat. Here are some of the main causes:

1. Poor diet

Diet high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and unhealthy fats can contribute to the accumulation of visceral fat. These types of foods are often calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, leading to weight gain and increased fat storage.


2. Sedentary lifestyle

Lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to the accumulation of visceral fat. 


3. Genetics

Some individuals may have a genetic inclination to accumulate visceral fat. Genetic factors can influence how your body stores fat and where it tends to accumulate.


4. Hormonal changes

Hormonal imbalances, such as elevated cortisol levels (the stress hormone), insulin resistance, and imbalances in sex hormones, can lead to increased visceral fat deposition. These hormonal changes can be influenced by factors like chronic stress, inadequate sleep, and certain medical conditions.


5. Age

As you age, your metabolism tends to slow down, and you may lose muscle mass. These changes can contribute to an increase in visceral fat.


6. Alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol intake can contribute to visceral fat accumulation. Alcohol is high in calories and can lead to weight gain, particularly around the abdominal area.


Health Risks Associated With Visceral Fats

Further, visceral fat is not only associated with an increase in waist circumference but also with a higher risk of developing various health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. According to a 2021 study by Harvard Health Publishing, visceral fat, which accumulates around the organs in the abdominal cavity, poses several health risks. Here are some of the health conditions associated with excess visceral fat:

1. Increased risk of cardiovascular disease

Excess visceral fat is strongly associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Visceral fat produces inflammatory substances that can interfere with the normal functioning of the cardiovascular system, leading to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.


2. Type 2 diabetes

Visceral fat plays a significant role in the development of insulin resistance, a condition where the body's cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin. Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Excess visceral fat can also lead to abnormal glucose metabolism and impaired insulin production by the pancreas.


3. Metabolic syndrome

Visceral fat accumulation is a key component of metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol levels, and abdominal obesity. Having metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.


4. Certain cancers

Studies have found that excess visceral fat is associated with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers, including colorectal cancer, breast cancer (in postmenopausal women), pancreatic cancer, and endometrial cancer.


5. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Visceral fat releases fatty acids into the liver, which can lead to the accumulation of fat in the liver, known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. NAFLD can progress to more severe conditions such as liver inflammation (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis) and liver cirrhosis.


6. Respiratory problems

Excessive visceral fat can affect lung function and lead to breathing difficulties, such as sleep apnea and respiratory problems during physical exertion.


7. Increased inflammation

Visceral fat secretes inflammatory substances called cytokines, which can promote systemic inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with various health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.


How Is Visceral Fat Measured?

Healthcare providers use specific guidelines to measure body fat, including visceral fat. Visceral fat typically constitutes around 10 per cent of your total body fat. To estimate your visceral fat level, you can calculate your overall body fat percentage and deduct approximately 10 per cent. If your total body fat percentage exceeds the recommended range, it is likely that your visceral fat level is also elevated.


Visceral fat can be measured using various methods, including:

1. Waist circumference

Use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of your waist at the level of your navel. A higher waist circumference is associated with increased visceral fat and higher health risks.


2. Imaging techniques

Advanced imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide more precise measurements of visceral fat. These methods can accurately quantify the amount of visceral fat by visualising the fat distribution in the abdominal region. However, these techniques are typically more expensive and less accessible for routine measurements.


3. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA)

DXA scans, primarily used to measure bone density, can also provide estimates of visceral fat. DXA scans use low-energy X-rays to differentiate between various tissues in the body, including fat. While DXA scans can provide valuable information about body composition, they are not as commonly used specifically for measuring visceral fat.


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How To Reduce Visceral Fat?

Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep, can help reduce visceral fat and improve overall health.

Reducing visceral fat requires a comprehensive approach that combines a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and lifestyle modifications. Here are some strategies that can help you reduce visceral fat:

1. Follow a balanced and nutritious diet

Focus on consuming whole, unprocessed foods that are rich in nutrients and low in added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats (such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil) in your diet. Limit your intake of sugary beverages, processed snacks, and fried foods.


2. Control portion sizes

Be mindful of your portion sizes to avoid overeating. Pay attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues and avoid eating large meals in one sitting. Consider using smaller plates and bowls to help control portion sizes.


3. Engage in regular aerobic exercise

Incorporate aerobic exercises into your routine, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. Regular aerobic exercise helps burn calories and promotes overall fat loss, including visceral fat.


4. Include strength training exercises

Strength training, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, can help build muscle mass. Increased muscle mass can boost your metabolism and help burn more calories, even at rest. Aim for strength training exercises at least two days a week, targeting all major muscle groups.


5. Get regular physical activity

In addition to structured exercise, aim to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk or bike to work if possible, and find opportunities to move throughout the day. Being more active overall can contribute to reducing visceral fat.


6. Manage stress levels

Chronic stress can contribute to visceral fat accumulation. Practice stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or engaging in hobbies and activities that you enjoy. Getting enough sleep is also important for stress management and overall health.


7. Limit alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol intake can contribute to visceral fat accumulation. It's recommended to limit alcohol consumption or avoid it altogether to reduce the risk of visceral fat deposition.


8. Prioritise quality sleep

Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Inadequate sleep is associated with hormonal imbalances, increased appetite, and weight gain, including the accumulation of visceral fat. Establish a consistent sleep routine and create a sleep-friendly environment to promote better sleep.


It's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalised advice and guidance on your lifestyle, any ailments you are dealing with and more.


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