What is Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat (or abdominal fat) is body fat which is stored within the abdominal cavity. It wraps around your vital organs including the liver, pancreas and intestines, and as a result can have a negative impact on your health. In fact, visceral fat has been linked to increased risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
It is important to distinguish the difference between subcutaneous fat and visceral fat…
Subcutaneous fat is the fat we store under our skin. It is the tissue that we can feel when we pinch ourselves, and contains blood vessels in addition to fatty tissues. Visceral fat, on the other hand, cannot be felt in such a way as it is the extra fat stored around our organs. It is the most dangerous type of fat as it much harder to identify.
No matter what your shape or size, you may be carrying excess visceral fat!
Regardless of shape or size an individual can be carrying excess visceral fat. This means that whether your doctor tells you that you’re underweight, overweight, obese or of a healthy weight, you may be carrying excess visceral fat within your abdominal cavity.
That is why BMI is an inaccurate measurement of health…
Body Mass Index (BMI) is used by many as an indicator of health. It involves comparing your weight in relation to your height to give an indication of your weight status i.e. whether you are categorised as underweight, overweight, healthy or obese. It doesn’t take into account muscle mass, age, sex, ethnicity, general level of fitness or visceral fat. Therefore, even if you have a ‘healthy’ BMI you may still be carrying excessive visceral fat, and could still be at risk of the health complications associated with it.
As a result, relying on BMI could put you at risk of countless diseases…
Visceral fat is often referred to as ‘active fat’ due to the effect it has on our hormones and body functions. It can interrupt normal hormone communications between your vital organs, and can lead to insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes. Additionally, it can affect the functions of your organs and puts you at higher risk of developing heart disease or cancers including breast cancer or colorectal cancer.
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
Factors which contribute to visceral fat levels include stress, diet and exercise habits in addition to age, ethnicity and gender. Living a healthy lifestyle will therefore reduce your chances of visceral fat accumulating in your abdominal cavity.
If you are worried about your visceral fat levels the waist-to-hip ratio (found by dividing waist width by hip width) can give an indication of total fat as well as the level of visceral fat, however the most accurate measurement of visceral fat is to measure adiponectin levels in the blood.
Adiponectin (a blood analyte) is closely linked with visceral fat; low levels of adiponectin indicate high levels of visceral fat. The Adiponectin test enables true measurement of visceral fat levels and allows for more accurate measurement of health than traditional BMI; if you have been diagnosed with unhealthy BMI and believe this to be an inaccurate diagnosis, testing your adiponectin levels can help determine your true measurement of health. Simply ask your doctor for the Adiponectin test!
It is widely understood that hypertension and diabetes are two of the most common causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD), a long-term condition where the kidneys do not work effectively. But what about abdominal fat?
Abdominal fat contributes to risk of diabetes and hypertension, and with these being the most common causes of CKD, it’s natural to associate abdominal fat with CKD, isn’t it? A new study has recently been published which examines this.
The study(1) aimed to examine the relationship between kidney function and abdominal fat; the researchers wanted to discover if abdominal obesity is associated with early markers of CKD in a young healthy population, and whether these associations differ by race and/or ethnicity.
As symptoms of CKD are not usually present until the condition reaches an advanced stage, blood and urine tests are relied on to detect the condition at earlier stages, and enable treatment to begin as early as possible. The identification of more indicators to enable this condition to be detected as early as possible is of interest, particularly due to 10% of the world’s population being affected by CKD(2).
The study involved the analysis of data gained from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in the US between 1999 and 2010. This included health, lifestyle and nutritional information from 6918 young adults aged 20-40 years; factors included height, weight, waist circumference, blood pressure and blood/urine samples for analysis of components including albumin, CRP, glucose, insulin, creatinine etc.
The researchers of the study defined abdominal obesity by gender criteria of waist circumference, and markers of CKD included estimated glomerular filtration rate and albuminuria ≥30 mg/g. Risk of CKD was analysed within strata of race and in subgroups of those with normal blood pressures, normal blood sugar levels and normal insulin sensitivity. Awareness of CKD was assessed in participants with albuminuria.
The study concluded that abdominal obesity in young adults, especially in Mexican-Americans, is independently associated with early markers of kidney dysfunction even in those with normal blood pressures, glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.
- Sarathy H et al. (2016) Abdominal Obesity, Race and Chronic Kidney Disease in Young Adults: Results from NHANES 1999-2010. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0153588. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153588
- World Kidney Day (2016) Chronic Kidney Disease. Online at: http://www.worldkidneyday.org/faqs/chronic-kidney-disease/
With the prevalence of obesity, greater awareness of CKD is needed to protect the youth from premature kidney dysfunction. Those at high risk of CKD should be screened every year. This includes patients with high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, or a family history of CKD. If symptoms are experienced visit your GP – symptoms of advanced CKD include tiredness; swollen ankles, feet or hands (due to water retention); shortness of breath; nausea; and blood in the urine.
For health professionals: The adiponectin test from Randox can accurately assess levels of abdominal visceral fat, independent of age, race or fitness level. Assessing adiponectin, and therefore visceral fat levels, can help assess risk of CKD, as well as a range of other illnesses such as pre-diabetes, CVD and various cancers. Contact us now for further information.