We all think “fat is fat”, wherever it is in the body and the thus all fat is the “enemy”! Well that is just not true, the real villain of the peace in terms of our health is the deep fat that wraps around our organs.
There are two types of body fat –
1. Subcutaneous fat – the fat we can pinch/wobble, generally not dangerous to health.
2. Visceral fat – generally deep, covering the organs. THIS FAT IS LINKED TO METABOLIC DISTURBANCES – including cardiovascular problems, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, breast cancer and gallbladder problems.
Fats found below the navel are subcutaneous fats, whilst those found above the navel are visceral fats. This can be seen in the “apple shape” (caused by an accumulation of visceral fats) and the “pear shape” (chiefly caused by subcutaneous fats).
Why We Develop Visceral Fats
Cortisol is produced by the body as a stress hormone when we are physically and psychologically stressed as part of our “flight or fight” mechanism.
Research shows that high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are linked to the development of visceral fats. It should also be remembered that the abdominal fat cells are metabolically active, producing chemicals called cytokines (interleukins and tumour necrosis factor) – these affect our endocrine system (the hormones) by stimulating the production of cortisol as the body identifies us as being under stress.
Thus over time the arteries become more “furred up” and the body develops insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes). The body sensing all is not right, then secretes even more of the stress hormone – CORTISOL.
Cortisol then –
• Suppresses the immune system
• Heightens memory and attention
• Increases blood pressure
• Decreases pain awareness
• Increases blood sugar (due to raising insulin resistance)
• Decreases serotonin levels
• Increased HDL (bad cholesterol)
• Decreases testosterone
• Interferes with sleep
However unlike adrenaline and noradrenaline (hormones also produced by stress), cortisol takes a long time to get metabolised from the system and IS ITSELF A STRESSOR!
All this leads to significant inflammation in the body. Inflammation stresses the body and stimulates the release of glucose from the liver and muscle into the blood – the response to this is then to increase insulin levels, leading to fat deposition around the abdomen. We then also crave high energy foods in this state. HIGH CIRCULATING LEVELS OF INSULIN ARE ASSOCIATED WITH INCREASED RISK OF MANY DISEASES!
How to Reduce Cortisol Levels
1. Remove processed foods from your diet
2. Increase omega 3 consumption
3. Reduce caffeine consumption
4. Practice good sleep hygiene
5. Increase lean protein and complex carbohydrates
6. Increase plant oils in diet
7. Increase exercise levels, especially cardiovascular exercise
8. Learn to relax and practice meditation