Belly Fat Defined: Subcutaneous Vs Visceral Fat
When we toss around the words “belly fat”, we’re actually talking about two different types: subcutaneous and visceral. While both types of fats store energy for your body to use, they are still very different. Without making things too complicated, this article will briefly explain all major differences between the two types of fat.
Subcutaneous adipose tissue (Subcutaneous fat)
This type of fat is present all over the body just underneath the skin (between your skin and muscles). Subcutaneous fat is best, though perhaps not most scientifically, defined as the fat that you can see, the “inch you can pinch.” There are many different names for this type of fat. The apple shaped fat, android fat, beer belly fat, cardiac fat, central fat, paunch fat, mid-section fat, and truncal fat are just some of them.
This type of fat can appear just about anywhere, but the areas most recognizable are the hips, thighs, and especially the stomach. If we pinch the skin in different parts of the body, we can see that the thickness of the fold is different from part to part. On the back of the hands, for example, the fold formed by pinching the skin is very thin, as little fat is normally stored here. However if you pinch the skin on the belly you’ll probably see a thick fold there. That’s because we are genetically designed to store a large quantity of fat in this area.
Subcutaneous fat compartments take years to fill. If they become large enough, they split into two new smaller fat cells capable of growing into mature fat cells. This process repeats itself for decades. At some point, subcutaneous fat cells reach a threshold and divert excess calories to a secondary fat storage area called visceral fat.
A moderate amount of subcutaneous fat is essential for life. If nothing else, it keeps you from freezing to death in the winter. But too much of it causes dissatisfaction with how we look and serious health problems. Excessive amounts of subcutaneous fat function as a visible sign of being overweight or obese, which raises your risk for many diseases. Therefore, don’t forget to measure your body fat using one of the existing methods.
But we have some great news: Subcutaneous fat responds immediately to proper diet plan and a solid exercise regimen.
Visceral adipose tissue (visceral fat)
Visceral adipose tissue is the second area where fat is stored. It develops on top and around our visceral organs, like the intestine, heart, liver, kidneys and so on. Visceral fat is nearly impossible to spot from outside. Therefore you can’t see or pinch visceral fat (often called “hidden” belly fat) as it lies underneath subcutaneous fat.
Complex equipment is necessary to measure the quantity and distribution of this fat. The only way to definitively diagnose visceral fat is with a CT or MRI scan. However, these are expensive and time consuming procedures. Instead, medical providers will typically use general guidelines to evaluate your visceral fat and the health risks it poses to your body. Harvard Health, for example, says that about 10 percent of all body fat is visceral fat. If you calculate your total body fat and then take 10 percent of it, you can estimate your amount of visceral fat.
Some people have hardly any subcutaneous fat, but a large quantity of visceral fat. That means they are fat, but they look thin. We are fat even when we look thin! Great!? Wrong! Therefore, never think that you are thin just because you appear thin.
Subcutaneous Vs Visceral Fat: Major differences
Why is visceral fat much worse than subcutaneous fat?
These two kinds of adipose tissue are not equivalent. Visceral fat tends to be more active in producing harmful hormones, while subcutaneous fat is not so active. People with large amounts of visceral fat tend to be more prone to cardiovascular diseases than people with the same level of fat which is stored in the subcutaneous adipose tissue.
The second difference is that while it is easy to get rid of subcutaneous fat with diet and exercise, intravisceral fat is far more stubborn. It seems that to get rid of this particular fat, you would first have to burn all the subcutaneous fat. At this stage, when you look like a zombie, your body will maybe start to think to burn visceral fat.
Modern Bodybuilders have protruding bellies, why?
When we watch really thin people, it is easy to see that some have a flat stomach while others do not, even if the subcutaneous fat on the belly is low. In the latter case, the belly is caused by this particular fat. This problem affects bodybuilders also. Normally, bodybuilders have a very low level of fat; they do anything in their power to shed fat so that muscle definition is more prominent. However, while subcutaneous fat is easy to tackle, visceral fat is not. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see a bodybuilder with no subcutaneous fat at all, but with a protruding belly.
That protruding belly could be related to visceral fat. The quantity of fat stored there is determined by our genes. This is why some people, despite a good quantity of fat deposited in the subcutaneous area of the belly, manage to have a relatively flat stomach.
Health issues due to excess body fat
While excess fat is never a good thing, subcutaneous fat, particularly around the hips and thighs, is not particularly dangerous. In fact, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004 found that liposuction removal of subcutaneous fat (up to 23 pounds of it) in fifteen obese women had no effect after three months on their measures of blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol. So while a muffin top might not be on your list of fashion do’s, it’s not high on the list of health dont’s.
Visceral fat, often referred to as “deep fat,” is energy-storing white fat that wraps around the inner organs. For this reason it’s very hard to remove surgically and incredibly dangerous.
One reason excess visceral fat is so harmful is that its blood flow drains into the liver via the portal vein. In other words, all the toxins and fatty acids given off by visceral fat are swept up by the blood and dumped into the liver, negatively impacting the production of blood lipids (cholesterol).
Visceral fat in excess is metabolically active and can harm your health in several ways:
- Can boost levels of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
- Reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone responsible for maintaining normal blood – sugar levels and your weight. Being insulin resistant makes it harder for you to lose fat.
- Recent research indicates that excess visceral fat is an independent risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.
Putting It Together
Regardless of where the body prefers to store fat, in the visceral adipose tissue or in the subcutaneous adipose tissue, one thing is clear! We are fat because we absorb energy in excess! One way to keep the energy intake low is to avoid fattening food.