What type of fat do you have, and what can you do about it?

Science by HLTH Code Team

The human body is a complex and intricate system, and the distribution of fat within it plays a crucial role in overall health. Two main types of fat, visceral and subcutaneous, are found in different areas of the body, and understanding their differences is essential for comprehending their impact on health. This article delves into the distinctions between visceral and subcutaneous fat, explores the factors that contribute to their accumulation, and highlights the reasons why visceral fat is considered more dangerous.

Understanding Visceral and Subcutaneous Fat

Visceral fat and subcutaneous fat are two distinct types of adipose tissue, each with its own characteristics and implications for health.

Visceral Fat: Visceral fat is stored within the abdominal cavity, surrounding vital organs such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines1. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which lies just beneath the skin, visceral fat resides deeper within the body. This type of fat is metabolically active, secreting hormones and inflammatory substances that can affect various physiological processes2. Measuring visceral fat is typically done through imaging techniques like CT scans or MRI.

Subcutaneous Fat: Subcutaneous fat is located just beneath the skin and is the most visible type of fat3. It serves as an energy reserve and provides insulation to regulate body temperature. Unlike visceral fat, subcutaneous fat is less metabolically active and is not directly associated with the same level of metabolic complications4.

Causes of Visceral and Subcutaneous Fat Accumulation

Several factors contribute to the accumulation of both visceral and subcutaneous fat. However, the distribution of these fats is influenced by different mechanisms.

Diet and Lifestyle: Dietary habits and lifestyle choices play a significant role in the accumulation of both visceral and subcutaneous fat5. Diets rich in refined carbohydrates, processed foods, sugary beverages and more contribute to overall weight gain, while sedentary behavior and lack of physical activity further exacerbate fat accumulation.

Genetics: Genetic factors can influence an individual’s predisposition to store fat in specific areas of the body6. Some people may have a genetic tendency to accumulate more visceral fat, while others may store excess fat subcutaneously.

Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, especially those related to age and gender, can impact fat distribution. For instance, hormonal changes during menopause in women are associated with an increase in visceral fat7.

Stress: Chronic stress can lead to the release of cortisol, a hormone that promotes the storage of visceral fat8. Stress management strategies are crucial in preventing excessive fat accumulation.

Why Visceral Fat Poses Greater Health Risks

While both visceral and subcutaneous fat contribute to overall body composition, visceral fat is recognized as a more significant health concern due to its unique characteristics and proximity to vital organs.

Inflammatory Effects: Visceral fat is metabolically active and releases pro-inflammatory substances such as cytokines and adipokines9. These inflammatory molecules can contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation in the body, increasing the risk of various health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.

Association with Chronic Diseases: Numerous studies have linked visceral fat to an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease10. The release of inflammatory substances from visceral fat can disrupt insulin sensitivity and contribute to the development of insulin resistance.

Impact on Metabolic Health: Visceral fat has been shown to play a crucial role in metabolic dysfunction. It can lead to dysregulation of lipid metabolism, elevated blood glucose levels, and abnormalities in insulin signaling11.

Endocrine Disruption: Visceral fat is an active endocrine organ, secreting hormones that can interfere with the body’s hormonal balance. For example, excess visceral fat is associated with increased production of resistin, a hormone that may contribute to insulin resistance12.



Preventing and Reducing Visceral Fat

Given the health risks associated with visceral fat, adopting lifestyle changes is crucial for its prevention and reduction. Here are some evidence-based strategies:

Balanced Diet: Making changes to your diet can help prevent excessive fat accumulation13. Limiting the intake of refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sugary beverages is essential.

Regular Physical Activity: Engaging in regular physical activity is a key component of weight management and visceral fat reduction14. Both aerobic exercises and strength training contribute to overall health and can specifically target visceral fat.

Stress Management: Implementing stress-reducing techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga, can help manage cortisol levels and prevent the accumulation of visceral fat15.

Adequate Sleep: Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and ensuring an adequate amount of sleep is associated with lower visceral fat levels16. Poor sleep quality and insufficient sleep may contribute to weight gain and visceral fat accumulation.


Understanding the distinctions between visceral and subcutaneous fat is essential for comprehending their impact on health. While both types of fat contribute to overall body composition, visceral fat, with its proximity to vital organs and inflammatory nature, poses a greater risk to health. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular physical activity, stress management, and adequate sleep, is crucial in preventing and reducing visceral fat. By addressing the root causes of fat accumulation, individuals can promote not only aesthetic well-being but also long-term health and disease prevention.


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This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.