Visceral Fat vs. Subcutaneous Fat:
What’s the Difference?
Before we dig into the nitty-gritty, I’d like to introduce to you the two types of fat first. We’ll be referring to them throughout this article, so it helps if you have a little bit of background on them first. Say hello to your visceral fat and subcutaneous fat.
You’re probably very familiar with your subcutaneous fat. It’s the fat that is lodged just right under your skin. You can pinch and roll it with your fingers when you squish your belly with your hands. Unsightly as it may seem to some of you, subcutaneous fat is not actually as sinister as visceral fat.
Visceral fat lies deep within the abs and wraps itself around your organs. You can’t see in plain sight how much visceral fat you have. It’s all parked right under the omentum, a curtain of tissue found underneath your ab muscles and just above the intestines.
You’ll need fancy machines to see exactly how much visceral fat you have, but you can make estimates by lying on your back and looking down at your stomach. If it’s flat, then the part of it that hangs out when you’re standing up is subcutaneous fat. If it protrudes, you most certainly have some amount of visceral fat.
The good thing is a huge majority of your body fat is subcutaneous fat. But if you have belly fat, you most definitely have at least some visceral fat in there.
And here’s what’s so bad about having visceral fat. It’s not just about not having nice, sexy abs. The truth is visceral fat – the dangerous type of stomach fat – is an endocrine organ of its own. It affects the production of certain chemicals that can lead to a variety of unwanted health conditions (such as those I mentioned above).
For example, visceral fat is known to trigger the production of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that induce low-grade inflammation, which is helpful when your body is trying to heal from wounds or infections. But too much inflammation caused by the constant presence of cytokines can clog the arteries and, ultimately, cause strokes and heart attacks.
This is compounded by the release of angiotensin, which is also induced by the presence of visceral fat. Angiotensin is a hormone that constricts your blood vessels and causes your blood pressure to rise.
And as if that isn’t enough, visceral fat also activates the release of retinol-binding protein 4. In English, we just call it RBP-4. RBP-4 is a type of protein that increases insulin resistance and has been linked directly to abdominal obesity.
Contrast that to subcutaneous fat, which can actually help by generating leptin, also known as the “satiety hormone.” Leptin makes you feel full faster and suppresses the appetite, thus making you eat less. That’s not to say, however, that having lots of subcutaneous fat is good for you.