Visceral Fat (Active Fat)

Type 2 diabetes can be caused by storing high amounts of visceral fat
Type 2 diabetes can be caused by storing high amounts of visceral fat

Visceral fat is body fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity and is therefore stored around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines.

Visceral fat is sometimes referred to as 'active fat' because research has shown that this type of fat plays a distinctive and potentially dangerous role affecting how our hormones function.

Storing higher amounts of visceral fat is associated with increased risks of a number of health problems including type 2 diabetes.

What types of fat do we store?

It is important to define the difference between visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that we store just under our skin. The fat we may be able to feel on our arms and legs is subcutaneous fat.

A growing belly can be the result of both types of fat. The fat we can feel just under the skin is subcutaneous fat but we may also be storing significant extra fat within our abdomen where our organs reside. This intra-abdominal fat is our visceral fat.

Visceral fat and insulin resistance

Carrying a high amount of visceral fat is known to be associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes. Researchers have found that visceral secretes a protein called retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4) which has been shown to increase resistance to insulin.

What are the health risks associated with visceral fat?

All of us will have a certain amount of visceral fat but those of us with a larger quantity of visceral fat may be exposed to increased risks of the following health conditions.

How can I tell if I have too much visceral fat?

The most certain way to tell if you are storing excess visceral fat is to undergo an MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan). However, MRI scans are not a cheap procedure and is therefore not recommended as a diagnosis tool for diabetes risk.

A relatively good indicator of visceral fat is to take a waistline measurement. Harvard University note around 10% of our total fat is likely to be stored as visceral fat, therefore if you are carrying higher amounts of body fat than is recommended, it is therefore more likely that you are also storing more visceral fat than is healthy.

Research has shown that the size of our belly is a relatively reliable indicator of the health risks linked to visceral fat.

Read our guide to waist measurements to see whether you may be at an increased risk of diabetes and other associated health issues. Link to new 'waist measurement and diabetes risk' content

Why does the body store fat around the organs?

Scientists are looking to find answers as to why visceral fat is stored by the body. To date, it is known that stress has a significant effect on where fat is stored on our body. Researchers have found that the stress hormone, cortisol, significantly increases the storage of visceral fat.

How can I prevent fat being stored around my organs?

Harvard University states that diet and exercise have been to be more effective at reducing visceral fat than the fat around our hips and thighs. So don't be too disheartened if diet and exercise is not reducing your clothing sizes as much as you'd like as your work could well be paying off through unseen benefits inside your body.

The following recommendations have been recognised as being helpful in reducing levels of visceral fat.

It should come as no surprise that these are the same lifestyle recommendations for reducing the risk and effect of type 2 diabetes.

Should I consider liposuction?

Liposuction only removes subcutaneous fat and therefore should not be undertaken as a procedure for improving health.

As with any form of surgery, liposuction carries the risk of infection which can negatively affect our health.

The Newcastle Diet and decreased visceral fat

A research study, published in 2011 by Newcastle University, showed that a very low calorie diet can significantly reduce levels of visceral fat in people with type 2 diabetes.

Along with the reduction in visceral fat, the study participants recorded improved blood glucose levels and a number of them were able to reduce or come off their diabetes medication.

Note that a very low calorie diet is regarded as an extreme diet and should only be undertaken with supervision from your doctor.