Visceral Fat is in Your Muscles Too

October 29, 2023

Visceral Fat is in Your Muscles Too!

Last week we learned that not all fat is the same. So-called "visceral fat" is inside your abdominal cavity and wrapped around your organs. It is intensely inflammatory" and associated with virtually all the disabling, degenerative diseases of aging. "Why are my knuckles so big?' or "Why is my knee arthritis so bad?" are both probably best answered by "The inflammation spewing out of visceral fat".

Accumulating visceral fat is probably a product of too many processed foods. The human body evolved to eat whole foods, minimally processed. Adding sugar, or multiple ingredients is a problem. Polishing and grinding grain provides for rapid digestion and higher glucose spikes than eating whole grains. All those changes overwhelm the natural storage of fat under your skin in so-called subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat on your hips doesn't look aesthetically pleasing but is harmless in regard to creating inflammation.

What about muscles? Our muscles take a hit too. Because of the increasing ability of the CT and MRI scanners, we are able to examine muscles and ask the question, "What happens to them with aging?". Well, the answer is pretty simple. We lose muscle inexorably with aging. Sarcopenia. Old age is strongly associated with frailty and loss of muscle. Does it need to be? Well, maybe not.

What recent research is showing is that legs filled with intramuscular fat are unhealthy with much less lean muscle. Intramuscular fat is strongly associated with visceral fat.  When you lose the visceral fat, the muscle rebounds and returns.  

This just doesn't just happen to humans. Go your your local grocery store and look at the steaks. The marbled steaks are full of intramuscular fat. That makes them juicier and tastier. How did the cow or pig get that marbling? They were fed corn and beans. Lots of corn and beans. Keep the lights on late at night so the animals keep eating. (Just like humans. Perhaps the next step in animal husbandry is to give them inane TV shows to watch so they too can eat endlessly). And, as mentioned last week, outdated candy from Halloween. It's cheaper than corn and makes animals get fatter, faster. Ditto for humans.

That fat is also uniquely inflammatory, just like visceral fat. It damages the muscle around it and the inflammatory cytokines circulate around the body and damage the heart too. Intramuscular fat is strongly associated with heart failure.

Recent research done in the military (6,000 MRIs done on abdomens and legs), reported by conference presentations shows that the loss of visceral fat/intramuscular fat results in a dramatic return of muscle mass. This may be the clue to sarcopenia....we have visceral fat and intramuscular fat that leads us to have bodywide inflammation. We have now proven it causes damage to one muscle we can easily measure, your heart. It's not a big jump to assume it also damages all your muscles.

What's the fix? 1. Avoid processed foods. If it has more than 5 ingredients, it is ultra-processed. Avoid any form of sugar, or any form of flour, and focus on the whole food. Don't eat inflammatory meat. That means grass-raised and grass-finished. Same for dairy and eggs. 2. Exercise in bursts. No marathons. No five-mile runs. Do sprints. Running, swimming, biking....bursts. 3. Get a good night's sleep. Darken your lights after 7 p.m. and avoid those blue light screens late at night. 4. Reduce stress. Excess cortisol drives fat into your gut. 5. No alcohol. Alcohol tips your metabolism into visceral fat deposition.

www.What will Work for me? This is recent research that ties these lines of evidence together. Advances in the MRI scanner, making it faster, allow it to happen. You can prove it with the CT scanner but you can't justify the radiation. I'm stymied by my own visceral fat. That darned little poochy tummy that just won't go away. My own insulin resistance speaks to having more visceral fat than I thought I had. I'm fascinated that my back pain gets better every time I do my 5-day, fast-mimicking diet. I just found an MRI scanner site that is willing to get the software and do the may take a month or two to get it set up. Does insurance pay for it? Considering that this might be the source of all metabolic trouble that causes long-term would think they would. Maybe they will eventually.

References: International Journal Endo, ScienceDirect, J Cachexia Sarcopenia,JACC Heart Failure, Frontier Immunology, Nutrition Facts

Pop Quiz

1. What is intramuscular fat?                          Answer: Fat from eating too much carbohydrate foods, usually ultraprocessed.

2. What does it look like on autopsy (otherwise known as the butcher shop)?                            Answer: Ummm, ummm, yummy marbling.

3. What happens to your leftover, outdated candy that you didn't buy at Halloween?               Answer: it is fed to animals to get them fatter, faster.

4. Does the inflammation from inflamed animals get passed on to the humans who eat their products (meat, butter, eggs, dairy)?                                Answer: YES! Now we know why corn-bean-raised animals cause so much inflammation. Just one meal of heavy animal products is enough to cause inflammation. The more processed, the worse it gets. That bratwurst, liverwurst, salami just isn't good for you.

5. What is the first step to your losing your poochy tummy?                                 Answer: Stop eating sugar, processed, and ultra-processed foods. Many for vegetables. (Then add burst exercises, good sleep, no alcohol, and stress reduction)