Visceral fat is fat stored in the abdomen area, near the liver, intestines, and stomach. Excessive visceral fat is particularly harmful to our health, according to research.
This deep belly fat can significantly increase the risk of inflammation, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, stroke, GERD, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, some cancers, and even mood disorders (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
In this article, we will discuss the dangers of visceral fat as well as provide research-based strategies to get rid of unwanted visceral fat, especially after age 50.
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What is Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat is the fat located around the stomach, liver, and intestines. Visceral fat is stored deeper in your body than subcutaneous fat.
Subcutaneous fat is stored just under your skin and is less harmful than visceral fat. Visceral fat or “deep fat” is pro-inflammatory and more dangerous because it is located near several important organs.
It is hard to tell whether belly fat is visceral or subcutaneous. Excessive visceral fat is diagnosed using a CT scan or MRI.
Although you can’t visually tell whether you have more visceral or subcutaneous fat, you are more at risk of excessive visceral fat if you are a woman with a waist-to-hip ratio above 0.85 or a man with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.90 (8).
To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference.
The Dangers of Belly Fat and Visceral Fat
Visceral fat promotes chronic inflammation throughout the body, which can increase the risk of a multitude of conditions.
In fact, according to extensive research, visceral fat and belly fat can significantly increase the risk of the following:
- Chronic inflammation
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Insulin resistance
- Heart Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Mood disorders like depression and anxiety
- Some types of cancers
- Decreased immune function
Excessive visceral fat can have a negative effect on almost every organ in our body, including the liver, heart, pancreas, stomach, brain, and immune system.
Our stomach is often referred to as our second brain because our stomach sends signals to our brain and vice versa.
When our stomach or gastrointestinal system is not in optimal health, our brains and our moods are affected.
Abdominal fat accumulation has been linked to an increase in mood disorders. This link is perhaps due to the gut-brain connection or perhaps due to the increased inflammation associated with excessive visceral fat (1).
Pro-inflammatory visceral fat may also cause a decrease in brain function and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In a study published in Brain Science, participants were divided into two groups.
The participants who had high amounts of visceral fat were in one group and the participants who had low visceral fat were in another group. The participants who had high amounts of visceral fat had decreased brain function (7).
Another study looked at the risk of dementia in middle-aged adults. This study showed that individuals with higher visceral fat had lower total brain volume on an MRI (6).
Visceral fat may also have an impact on our immune system. Seventy percent of our immune system is in our gastrointestinal system. Therefore, visceral fat surrounding the GI system could have a negative effect on our immune system (9).
As we age subcutaneous fat decreases and visceral fat increases. Moreover, as we age our risk for developing chronic disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cancer increases as well.
This is why it becomes even more important to decrease our visceral fat after age 50. Fortunately, according to research, several strategies can effectively decrease visceral fat. Below are 3 tricks to lose visceral fat after 50.
3 Secrets Tips to Lose Visceral Fat
1. Manage Stress
The cortisol hormone is released when we are under stress. This is a normal process during stress; however, chronic stress can lead to chronic excessive cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels promote visceral fat accumulation (10).
Because cortisol can cause an increase in visceral fat, managing stress levels is crucial. Stress is an inevitable part of life, but we can learn ways to cope with stress; thus, decreasing cortisol levels.
Ways to Decrease Stress Levels
Exercise on Most Days
Exercise releases endorphins, i.e., happy hormones. Nothing makes you feel refreshed and stress-free like exercise.
Exercise can also help reduce general body fat and visceral fat by increasing the number of calories you burn.
Try to get in exercise every day to help manage stress and decrease belly fat. Include both strength training and cardio activities for best results.
Consume Calming Foods and Drinks.
Frequently eating foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3s, and vitamin D have also been linked to a decreased risk of developing anxiety and depression (11, 13).
An Anti-anxiety diet is a diet high in vegetables, fruits, salmon, tuna, nuts, and seeds.
Get Enough Sleep
Proper sleep is also important when it comes to reducing belly fat. Inadequate sleep increases cortisol levels and increases your risk of a multitude of conditions (14).
One study showed that individuals who slept fewer hours were more likely to be overweight or obese. The same study noted that sleep quality increased weight loss success by 33% (15).
To promote better sleep, put away your phone before bed and drink a calming drink like chamomile tea. Tart cherry juice contains natural melatonin and has been shown to help with sleep as well (16).
2. Decrease Sugar Intake
High intakes of sugar, fructose, fried foods, and ultra-processed foods can increase visceral fat accumulation. Sugar appears especially harmful.
In one study, researchers found that individuals with a higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages had 7% more visceral fat than individuals who drank low amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages (17)
Another systemic review of 14 studies found a similar link between high sugar intakes and visceral fat (18).
High sugar intakes have also been linked to increased stress and cortisol levels. This can further increase your risk of accumulating excessive fat in the abdomen (19).
One simple way to reduce sugar intake is to limit the consumption of sugar-containing beverages. You can also limit consumption of sugary desserts and ultra-processed pastries.
When purchasing condiments, sauces, and packaged foods, look for “no sugar added” listed on the label. Consider also limiting intakes of fried foods and ultra-processed foods to reduce visceral fat accumulation.
Also check out: 11 Foods to Avoid to Lose Belly Fat
3. Eat Probiotics and Prebiotics to Promote Gut Health
Although more human trails and randomized placebo-controlled trials are needed, evidence suggests that consuming certain probiotics may help reduce visceral fat and overall body fat.
According to a review in Nutrients, the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri appears to decrease abdominal fat and general body weight.
Lactobacillus Plantarum, another type of probiotic, appears to decrease waist circumference and general body weight and body fat (20).
Lactobacillus Plantarum and Lactobacillus gasseri are found in fermented foods like kefir, miso, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Prebiotics also help our gut, by providing food for the probiotics. Prebiotics include fiber-rich foods like bananas, apples, onions, asparagus, oats, and flaxseeds.
The Final Takeaway
Visceral fat is the fat the surrounds the inner organs in the abdomen. This type of deep fat puts you more at risk for many serious chronic diseases and medical conditions.
Visceral fat increases as we age, but there are strategies and habits we can adopt that can help reduce visceral fat.
To reduce visceral fat and belly fat, learn ways to cope with stress. Exercising daily, taking time to relax, eating anti-anxiety and/or calming foods, and getting adequate sleep helps us better manage stress.
Exercise can also help us burn more calories and belly fat. Anti-anxiety and calming foods include vegetables, fruits, salmon, tuna, nuts, seeds, green tea, and dark chocolate.
Incorporating probiotics and prebiotic foods as well as limiting sugar intakes can also help reduce visceral fat and belly fat.