“We were able to show that there is a causal relationship between visceral fat and risk of disease. We were surprised that this causal effect was, in some cases such as for type 2 diabetes, stronger than previously thought," said study author Torgny Karlsson.
For the study, the researchers analyzed the genomes of 325,000 individuals from the U.K. Biobank, a database of people's health information that also serves as a resource for scientific research. To measure visceral fat, they developed a novel technique that is cheaper and more efficient than any of the currently used methods of measurement.
In relation to visceral fat, women displayed a higher overall risk of diseases, particularly of Type 2 diabetes, than men. The team found that adding just over two pounds of deep belly fat could raise the risk of Type 2 diabetes by more than seven times in women. On the other hand, the same amount of fat accumulation only increased the risk by a little more than two times in men.
The effect of visceral fat on blood pressure was also greater in women, with the risk of hypertension increasing by 40 percent in women compared to men.
While the researchers don't have an explanation as to why deep belly fat poses greater health risks for women than men, they suspect that visceral fat becomes harmful because it releases a lot of free fatty acids. These free fatty acids end up in the liver, where researchers believe they may increase the production of blood lipids.
It's important to note that not all types of body fat contribute to poor health. Having a certain amount of subcutaneous fat, for instance, is normal and healthy. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that you can squeeze or pinch on your arms and belly. About 90 percent of the body's total fat is subcutaneous. (Related: Hormone imbalances and belly fat.)
In contrast, visceral fat is considered the dangerous type of fat. It is stored not only in the abdomen but also around major organs, such as the liver, heart, kidneys, pancreas and intestines. Previous studies have found that visceral fat boosts the release of cytokines, which are chemical signals produced by different types of cells. The excessive production of cytokines can negatively impact cell sensitivity to insulin, blood pressure and blood clotting.
Certain foods, such as refined carbohydrates and drinks with high-fructose corn syrup increase visceral fat, so avoid these unhealthy foods and stick to a diet of whole plant-based foods to prevent obesity and other cardiometabolic diseases.
Learn more about foods that contribute to visceral fat accumulation at Junkfood.news.