Visceral Fat, Guilty of Systemic Inflammation

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By: Linda von Wartburg

If you have to be fat, it’s a far, far better thing to be fat in places other than your belly. Visceral fat, the kind deep inside the abdomen that inextricably surrounds internal organs, is an organ in itself, secreting hormones and active molecules, called cytokines, which are bad for your health.

Now a study from the Washington University School of medicine in St. Louis, published in February 2007 Diabetes, has shown that visceral fat secretes molecules that increase system-wide inflammation.

The study involved 25 obese patients who were undergoing gastric bypass surgery. Since the researchers couldn’t remove their visceral fat, which was entangled in intestines and other organs, they sampled blood from the portal vein, which drains the visceral fat.  They found that portal vein blood had levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), an inflammatory molecule, 50 times higher than blood from the radial artery of the arm.  Clearly, the visceral fat was secreting high levels of IL-6 into the portal vein blood.

Increased levels of IL-6 in the portal vein are associated with high concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the body. High CRP levels are related to inflammation.  Chronic inflammation is associated with insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and atherosclerosis, and may also be implicated in cancer and aging. 

The lesson here? Ban the belly fat! Walk a little more, eat a little less, and eradicate that visceral fat.

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