When it comes to our bodies, fat is a word that often carries negative connotations. However, it’s important to understand that not all fat is created equal. In fact, understanding the different types of body fat can help us make informed decisions about our health and well-being. One area where excess fat tends to accumulate is the abdomen, commonly known as belly fat. Let’s delve into the world of body fat and explore the two main types of belly fat: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.
What are fat cells?
The skin is composed of three primary layers:
1. Epidermis: The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin.
2. Dermis: The dermis is the middle layer of the skin and lies beneath the epidermis.
3. Subcutaneous Fat (Hypodermis): The deepest layer of the skin is known as the subcutaneous fat or hypodermis.
Fat cells, also known as adipocytes, are specialized cells found in connective tissue that are responsible for storing and releasing fat. They are a crucial component of our body’s energy balance and play a role in maintaining proper metabolic function. The number of fat cells in the body is established during adolescence and remains relatively constant throughout adulthood, although their size can change depending on weight fluctuations.
In contrast to subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is the type of fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity, surrounding our vital organs such as the liver, stomach, and intestines. Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat poses a greater health risk. This deep abdominal fat is metabolically active and can release hormones and inflammatory substances that contribute to various health problems. Excessive accumulation of visceral fat has been linked to increased risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and other chronic conditions.
Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat that lies directly beneath the surface of our skin. It is the fat we can pinch and feel. While subcutaneous fat may not be desirable from an aesthetic standpoint, it is generally considered harmless and may even provide some protection against certain diseases. The amount of subcutaneous fat we have is influenced by a combination of genetic factors, lifestyle choices, and overall body composition.
People with a large amount of subcutaneous fat often have a large amount of visceral fat.
Causes of increased subcutaneous fat
Everyone is born with subcutaneous fat. Aside from genetics, people typically have a greater amount of subcutaneous fat if they:-
- Eat more calories than they burn
- Are sedentary
- Have little muscle mass
- Get little aerobic activity
- Have diabetes
- Are insulin resistant
Functions of Subcutaneous Fat
Subcutaneous fat, also known as the hypodermis, performs several important functions in the body:
- Energy Storage: Subcutaneous fat serves as a way for the body to store energy. Excess calories consumed are converted into triglycerides and stored in adipose tissue to be used as an energy source when needed.
- Cushioning and Protection: The layer of subcutaneous fat acts as padding, providing cushioning and protection to muscles and bones. It helps absorb and distribute the impact from hits or falls, reducing the risk of injury.
- Passage for Nerves and Blood Vessels: Subcutaneous fat provides a pathway for nerves and blood vessels that travel between the skin and underlying muscles. It facilitates the transmission of signals and the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the skin and surrounding tissues.
- Thermal Insulation: The subcutaneous fat layer aids in regulating body temperature. It acts as insulation, helping to retain heat and maintain a stable internal body temperature in cold environments. Conversely, it can also provide insulation against excessive heat in warmer conditions.
- Connective Tissue Attachment: Subcutaneous fat attaches the dermis, the middle layer of the skin, to the underlying muscles and bones through its special connecting tissue. This attachment helps maintain the structural integrity of the skin and facilitates movement and mobility.
Negative effects of ‘too much’ Subcutaneous fat
Excessive accumulation of subcutaneous fat in the body can lead to various negative health effects. Here are some potential risks associated with having an excess of subcutaneous fat:
- Heart Disease and Strokes: Too much subcutaneous fat can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and strokes. It can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, causing them to narrow and potentially leading to cardiovascular complications.
- High Blood Pressure: Subcutaneous fat has been linked to elevated blood pressure levels. Increased fat mass can strain the cardiovascular system, leading to hypertension and an increased risk of heart-related problems.
- Type II Diabetes: Excess subcutaneous fat is closely associated with an increased risk of developing type II diabetes. Adipose tissue releases hormones and chemicals that can interfere with insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, leading to insulin resistance and the development of diabetes.
- Certain Types of Cancers: Research has shown a link between excess subcutaneous fat and an increased risk of certain types of cancers, including breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. Adipose tissue produces hormones and inflammatory substances that can promote the growth and development of cancer cells.
- Sleep Apnea: Subcutaneous fat, especially in the neck and throat area, can contribute to the narrowing of airways during sleep, leading to sleep apnea. This condition causes disruptions in breathing patterns during sleep and can result in poor sleep quality and other related health issues.
- Fatty Liver Disease: Excessive subcutaneous fat can also contribute to the accumulation of fat in the liver, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD can progress to more severe conditions, such as liver inflammation and liver fibrosis, if left untreated.
- Kidney Disease: Studies have suggested a potential link between excess subcutaneous fat and an increased risk of kidney disease. Obesity and excessive fat deposition can contribute to kidney damage and impair kidney function over time.
Assessing Body Fat
One way of determining if you are overweight is by measuring your body mass index (BMI) which provides the ratio of your weight to height. Another way to determine excess fat is waist-to-hip ratio measurement. According to the World health organization, a healthy WHR is 0.9 or less in men and 0.85 or less in women.
How to reduce Subcutaneous Fat
Non-invasive procedures offer alternatives to surgical interventions for reducing subcutaneous fat. Here are five commonly used non-invasive procedures:
- CoolSculpting: CoolSculpting, also known as cryolipolysis, involves freezing and destroying fat cells through controlled cooling. The procedure selectively targets and eliminates fat cells, which are then naturally processed and eliminated from the body over time.
- Sculpsure: Sculpsure utilizes laser technology to heat and destroy fat cells. It works by delivering targeted laser energy to the treatment area, causing the fat cells to be disrupted and gradually eliminated by the body’s lymphatic system.
- CM Slim: CM Slim is a non-invasive body contouring procedure that uses a combination of different technologies such as radiofrequency, ultrasound, and vacuum therapy. These technologies work synergistically to reduce fat, tighten skin, and improve overall body shape.
- HIFU (High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound): HIFU is a non-invasive treatment that uses focused ultrasound energy to heat and destroy fat cells. The energy is delivered deep into the subcutaneous fat layer, targeting specific areas for fat reduction and body contouring.
- Venus Legacy: Venus Legacy combines radiofrequency and magnetic pulses to tighten skin, reduce cellulite, and contour the body. It can also help in reducing subcutaneous fat by increasing the metabolic rate and promoting lymphatic drainage.
Advantages of non-invasive fat reduction procedures
Non-invasive procedures for fat reduction and body contouring offer several advantages over surgical interventions. Here are some key benefits:
- No Anesthesia: Non-invasive procedures typically do not require the use of anesthesia. This means that there is no need for injections or the associated risks and side effects that come with anesthesia.
- No Surgery, No Needles: Non-invasive treatments do not involve surgical incisions or the use of needles. They are performed externally, without the need for invasive procedures or the associated scarring and recovery time.
- No Downtime: Non-invasive procedures often have minimal to no downtime, allowing individuals to resume their regular activities immediately after the treatment. Unlike surgical interventions, which may require a significant recovery period, non-invasive procedures enable individuals to get back to their daily routines without interruption.
- Painless: Non-invasive treatments are generally designed to be painless or minimally uncomfortable. The procedures are performed using advanced technologies that target and eliminate fat cells without causing significant discomfort.
- Outpatient Procedure: Non-invasive procedures are typically performed on an outpatient basis. This means that individuals can undergo the treatment without the need for hospitalization or an overnight stay. They can simply visit a skincare clinic or aesthetic center, receive the procedure, and return home afterward.