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The Princeton Longevity Center Medical News

Tip # 9-  Get Fat in the Right Places

Just as not all the fats in your diet are bad for you, not all the excess fat you are carrying is bad for you, either.

We typically think of body fat as being universally bad for our health.  The more overweight you are, the higher your risk for heart attacks, high blood pressure and diabetes must be.  But that is not entirely correct.  It turns out that we have good fat and bad fat. 

Subcutaneous fat, the fat just under the skin that you can pinch with your fingers, is actually good fat.  This fat is mainly over the arms, legs, buttocks and back.  It functions as long-term excess calorie storage. 

It’s the Visceral Fat that is the dangerous kind. This is the fat that lies deep within the abdominal and chest cavities surrounding our internal organs (the viscera). More than fat anywhere else in the body, intra-abdominal, or visceral, fat is associated with bad health effects.

A major effect is reduced sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that helps glucose enter the body's cells. Studies have shown visceral obesity to be a strong predictor of, among other things, heart attacks in young men, chronic heart failure in older people and high blood pressure. Having an excess of visceral fat has also been implicated in the development of Alzheimer's disease, colon cancer, gallstones, ovarian cystic disease, breast cancer, and sleep apnea.  Visceral fat raises the level of inflammation in the body and alters hormone levels. In men, it metabolizes testosterone into estrogen, lowering energy level and sex drive.  In women, it converts beneficial forms of estrogen into the estrogens that can increase cancer risk.

The amount of visceral fat you have is a much better predictor of your health risks than the total amount of fat. But figuring out how much visceral you have is not easy to do at home.  Your bathroom scale tells your weight but doesn’t tell you how much is fat and how much is bone, muscle and everything else.  Trying to calculate your BMI (Body-Mass Index) isn’t much better.  That just gives you an idea of whether you are heavy for your height (or maybe you prefer to think of it as just a bit too short for your weight).  But again, it still does not differentiate someone who is all muscle from someone who is all fat and does not tell you where the fat is located.  Even measuring your Percent Body Fat still doesn’t tell you whether the fat is subcutaneous or visceral. 

You can get a rough idea of how much visceral fat you have from your waist measurement.  If you are a woman and your waist is over 35” or a man and your waist is over 40”, you may have a problem with visceral fat.  Just about the only way to know for sure is with a CT scan of a section of the abdomen. 

The good news is that some simple lifestyle changes can help you to reduce your visceral fat.  Low carbohydrate diets, such as the South Beach Diet, and moderate amounts of exercise (at least 150-300 minutes per week) can help.  Avoid trans fats which may worsen insulin resistance and promote visceral fat.  Lowering your stress level may also help to reduce some of the hormonal effects that can cause visceral fat

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