It is important to be aware of the dangers of visceral fat. This type of fat is the excessive accumulation of intra-abdominal adipose tissue, a type of “deep” fat that is deposited far within your body.
It’s a gel-like fat that envelops major organs, including the liver, pancreas and kidneys.
If your belly protrudes significantly and your waist tends to run large, that’s a good sign that you’re storing large amounts of visceral fat. This is more apparent in overweight individuals, but even skinny people have visceral fat and may be completely ignorant of its existence.
These are dangerous fat cells that don’t just sit there and make your trousers feel tight. They change your body and are linked to an increased risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, sexual dysfunction and diabetes.
Visceral fat is toxic to the body because it provokes inflammatory pathways and interferes with the body’s normal hormonal functions.
This type of fat tissue actually functions like an organ, pumping out toxic substances such as pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that interfere with hormones that regulate appetite, weight, mood and brain function.
A note on the difference between visceral and subcutaneous fat: visceral fat is the adipose tissue that surrounds your internal organs and is the fat that kills you; subcutaneous fat is the fat that sits under your skin.
Perhaps this knowledge will motivate you to throw away your fried snacks and sign up for a diet or fitness programme.
A scan to help
This may also be the time for a Dexa scan, to help you tell how much fat and lean mass you’re carrying on your arms, legs and rear region.
A Dexa scan measures bone mass, muscle mass and fat mass.
Recognised as the “gold standard” for measuring body fat percentages, a Dexa scan can benefit your diet and fitness regiment too.
A dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scan, the Dexa (also known as DXA), is the most accurate way of measuring one’s body fat.
It works by measuring bone mineral density by aiming two x-ray beams with different energy levels at the patient’s bones.
During a scan, the patient lays flat on a bed within the Dexa machine, with your feet together and your arms by your side.
The patient has to be still for 10-15 minutes while a machine slowly moves from head to toe, centimetre by centimetre. After subtracting soft tissue absorption, bone mineral density is determined from the absorption of each beam by bone.
A Dexa body scan report will provide you with insightful data based purely on the amount and distribution of fat and lean mass in your body.
This can help you to identify potential health issues you could be at risk for, and thus, take steps to prevent developing the disease.
For example, if your A/G (android/gynoid) fat is too high, it means you might be carrying too much fat in your trunk and around your organs, which is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
Remember, however, that the idea is not to lose weight, but to lose fat. Knowing how much fat and muscle percentages you have in your body will help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Dexa for fitness
Once you’ve kickstarted your fitness regime, subsequent body scans can be a good motivator to keep going.
When you see your fat levels going down and muscle mass increasing, it’ll be like an injection of renewed vigour to keep going.
Similarly, a body scan that shows you’re off track will help you to fine-tune your programme – or find a personal trainer to help you hit your goals.
If you’re serious about your sport, Dexa scans are for you too.
Professional athletes, whether they are bodybuilders, marathon runners or triathletes will want to look into Dexa scans too, as they have to monitor their performance and body composition consistently.
The detailed information provided by a Dexa body scan is what they need to examine the following five elements:
• Targeting the optimum range of body fat – Sports research has reached the point where studies have actually identified the optimum ranges of body fat for individual sports.
For example, at competition time, male bodybuilders will aim for under 10% of body fat.
Runners typically have around 12% body fat, cyclists around 8%-10% and swimmers about 12%-15%.
For athletes who strive to make strides in their performance in a particular sport or activity, Dexa scans can accurately measure their progress towards achieving the optimum body composition target of their chosen sport.
• Establish diet and exercise regimen – The first Dexa scan that an athlete takes gives an accurate picture of their current body composition.
It makes it easy for coaches or nutritionists to tailor a fitness and macronutrient diet regimen based on increasing muscle mass, decreasing fat, or both.
After some time has passed, updated scans are taken and that charts their body composition history, accurately measuring progress, and confirming that the diet and training programmes are on the right track.
• Balance and symmetry – Sports like swimming, cycling and bodybuilding require a balance of strength and muscle size on both sides of the body. Dexa measures lean mass and body fat in each region: the arms, legs, trunk, belly, thigh and forearm.
An athlete can work towards correcting imbalances in body composition that may impede any improvements in performance.
• Speed up rehabilitation – Sustaining an injury means that a sportsman will have to sit out several weeks or months of action. This is the time when they will lose muscle mass and be susceptible to gaining fat.
Dexa scans will accurately monitor these changes and enable an informed rehabilitation programme of diet and exercise to maintain muscle balance.
• Motivation – Motivation comes in all forms, and at every level of sport, athletes need motivation. Not just from their coach, teammates, friends and family members, but also in a clinical or technical format that helps them see changes and improvement in body composition.
Data, as recorded by Dexa scans, is another way to maintain motivation levels when other measures don’t do the trick.
A Dexa scan can provide reassurance that any weight gain is proportional and not just all fat, gives peace of mind that their hard work has not gone to waste, and helps them to keep pushing the limits.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.