Your first thought may be that you didn’t know we had “healthy” abdominal fat. In general, you would be correct. But abdominal fat DOES serve a purpose.
Just ask an Inuit Eskimo or a hibernating polar bear if there is a healthy use for abdominal fat. Abdominal fat is designed as a storage depot for excess calories to be used under times of hardship. So it actually has a purpose. I Just got back from seeing Disney’s new movie Bears. It is about a mama bear’s (Sky) struggle to put on fat to make it through the winter to keep her two baby cubs alive. At no point in the movie did the narrator point out that Sky was looking a little too plump and needed to cut back on her calories and exercise a little more.
Nope. She needed the fat.
The rest of us? Or at least the rest of us that have some 8,000 calories available in a mere 25 foot walk to the fridge? This fat has moved beyond storage to disease causing. Most of the abdominal fat present in todays’ society is the bad kind; a result of too many calories with too little nutrient quality. Ultimately the fat runs out of a decent blood supply and goes rogue. This abdominal fat takes on a life of its own and becomes its own organ system, kicking out inflammation-causing hormones that lead to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer. All things that we would all arguably like to avoid.
Generally, we think in terms of visceral (bad) and subcutaneous (not bad) fat. However, the dividing line is not all that clear. This particular study takes a more in-depth look at the antioxidant status present within both types of fat in a group of 50 women. These women were divided into two groups: normal weight and obese.
But here’s where it gets interesting. The then further divided these two groups into two subgroups: metabolically healthy and metabolically obese. Just because someone does not appear to be at risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer on the outside based on body fat does not mean that blood work tells a different story.
The term “metobolically obese” refers to those (regardless of how much fat they have) who are insulin resistant / prediabetic based on insulin levels (HOMA-IR), triglyceride levels, total cholesterol as well as LDL- and HDL-cholesterol levels. In other words, you can have a skinny person who is still at great risk of diabetes and heart disease (referred to a normal weight, metabolically obese).
In these four groups, certain antioxidants (glutathione/GSH and GSH-dependent enzyme activities) and markers of oxidative damage (specifically NADPH oxidase protein and 4-hydroxynonenal levels) were measured. Here’s what they found:
- Visceral fat had higher levels of antioxidants (glutathione/GSH and GSH-dependent enzyme activities).
- However, obese women had less of the antioxidants in both types of fat.
- However, in the obese women, oxidative damage levels were higher and there were lower levels of antioxidants only in the visceral fat.
Basically, when we are at a more ideal weight, the fat that is present in our bodies, regardless of where it is, has the ability to protect itself. As more and more fat collects in the abdominal region, this tissue becomes metabolically stressed out (more and more oxidative stress). This change is not for the better and leads to all the problems associated with abdominal fat like heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancer.
Interestingly, laser “liposuction” may be just what the doctor ordered. This tool has the potential to improve the health of abdominal fat cells and lower the risk of chronic disease. In our office, we have seen reduction in the volume of the the abdominal fat in just a few short treatments. It would be interesting to see what would happen if medicine increased the use of this tool for those with excessive abdominal fat.