Invisifat. It's the worst kind.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

July 2012

You won't find invisifat in the dictionary, or even on the Internet. It's a word that I made up to describe visceral fat, the kind that gradually accumulates inside the abdomen among the sprawling loops of intestine. One's waist size might expand only a little and it may not show up on the scale because it tends to increase even as unused muscles get smaller and lighter. By the time slight overweight becomes frank obesity this visceral fat, which by then weighs several pounds, is camouflaged by the subcutaneous fat we recognize as a beer belly.

The greater the amount of invisifat the higher the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. That helps to explain the apparent paradox of the healthy-appearing, nearly flat-bellied individual who collapses from a heart attack or becomes paralyzed by a stroke. Dr. Dean Ornish, a highly respected cardiologist and author notes that there is no such thing as a sudden heart attack. "Surprise, maybe, but not sudden." Visceral fat does its harm over years, pouring out inflammatory chemicals that damage the lining of blood vessels, building up mounds of plaque that trigger artery-clogging blood clots when they finally rupture.

Men are more prone to accumulate invisifat than women, at least until the latter hit menopause. As males become obese they develop an apple shape while in women the same calorie overindulgence results in the familiar but despised pear shape, oversized hips and thighs. We gave the evolutionary explanation for nature's unfairness in a column last January. Thigh fat is not associated with heart disease; a large abdomen in a post-menopausal woman is a danger sign that indicates hazardous visceral fat.

It takes only a moderate amount of regular exercise to slow down the accumulation of visceral fat and only a little more to melt it away, provided that calorie intake stays the same. Duke University researchers measured visceral fat in three groups of volunteers, all of whom left their diet unchanged. During the 6-month study non-exercisers continued to accumulate visceral fat. Those who walked briskly or slow-jogged on a treadmill for the equivalent of 11 miles per week gained no visceral fat. Those who jogged 20 miles per week were rewarded by losing both visceral fat and their love handles.

These were not gym junkies. They spent about 3 hours a week on a treadmill or stationary bike. That's a small investment for a huge reward.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.