By Dr. Mercola
When you think of body fat you most likely think of cellulite and love handles (subcutaneous fat), but there's another type of fat in your body that is much less visible and actually far more dangerous.
Unlike subcutaneous fat that lies just under your skin and is noticeable, visceral fat lies in your abdominal cavity, under the abdominal muscle, and often surrounds your vital organs.
Visceral fat, together with elevated blood pressure, unstable blood sugar and unhealthy levels of cholesterol make up what we call "metabolic syndrome," which in turn increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Like all body fat, diet and exercise will help keep your visceral fat levels to a minimum, however there appear to be other factors involved as well, including the health of your digestive tract.
Leaky Gut May Increase Visceral Fat
New research from Sweden has uncovered a novel connection between intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut) and visceral fat. Women with higher markers of leaky gut also had higher levels of visceral fat and liver fat, and larger waist circumference, which suggests that this condition may promote the accumulation of visceral fat, as well as impact the related metabolic dysfunction.
So what exactly is leaky gut?
It is a condition that occurs due to gaps in the membrane lining your intestinal wall.
These tiny gaps allow toxic substances that should be confined to your digestive tract to escape into your bloodstream – hence the term leaky gut syndrome. These toxic substances can come from numerous sources, such as Candida yeast overgrowth, undigested food particles or waste products, and they basically irritate your intestinal lining, eventually compromising its integrity and allowing a flow of toxic particles to "leak out" into your bloodstream. The leaking particles, in turn, prompt an inflammatory reaction from your body that can cause a wide variety of symptoms.
Most often leaky gut syndrome is associated with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease, but even healthy people can have varying degrees of intestinal permeability. In fact, the aforementioned study involved healthy women, not those with a health condition that would normally signal a problem with leaky gut.
Why is this important?
Because it means you, too, could have a leaky gut that is predisposing you to carry higher levels of visceral fat, which in turn could increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases.
What's the Secret to Avoiding Leaky Gut?
Your body contains about 100 trillion bacteria -- more than 10 times the number of cells you have in your entire body. It's now quite clear that the type and quantity of micro-organisms in your gut interact with your body in ways that can either prevent or encourage the development of many diseases.
Virtually anything that can upset the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract can encourage damage to your intestinal lining that can lead to leaky gut. It's a very fragile system, and it's important to realize that your gut bacteria are very vulnerable to lifestyle and environmental factors, such as:
✓ Sugar / fructose
✓ Refined grains
✓ Processed foods
✓ Antibiotics (including antibiotics given to livestock for food production)
✓ Chlorinated and fluoridated water
✓ Antibacterial soaps, etc
✓ Agricultural chemicals and pesticides
All of these factors throw your gut flora out of balance, and, as you can see, many of these factors are pervasive and can be difficult to avoid. However, it's not impossible. Simply altering your diet to avoid processed foods and focusing on whole (ideally locally grown organic) foods will make a big dent! That change alone will dramatically reduce the amount of sugar and fructose you consume, as well as automatically limit your exposure to antibiotics and agricultural chemicals.
How can you tell whether your health is already starting to suffer from a damaged digestive system? The following symptoms are all signs that unhealthy bacteria have taken over too much real estate in your gut, and you may be suffering from leaky gut:
✓ Gas and bloating
✓ Constipation or diarrhea
✓ Sugar cravings, and cravings for refined carb foods
If you're experiencing these symptoms, you probably need to add some healthy probiotics (good bacteria) to your diet, either in the form of traditionally fermented foods or a high-quality supplement. Probiotics are essential for optimal digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, and they help your body produce vitamins, absorb minerals and aid in the elimination of toxins. Green Med Info lists over 200 studies linking probiotics to more than 170 different diseases and health problems.
Healthy options for probiotics include:
✓ Lassi (an Indian yogurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner)
✓ Various pickled fermentations of cabbage sauerkraut, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots
✓ Fermented raw milk such as kefir or yogurt, but NOT commercial versions, which typically do not have live cultures and are loaded with sugars that feed pathogenic bacteria
✓ Natto (fermented soy)
✓ Kim chee
Watch Your Intake of Sugar/Fructose and Grains to Avoid Leaky Gut and Visceral Fat
One of the simplest and most profound steps you can take for your health and weight is to limit your intake of sugar, including fructose, and grains, as this will have a cascade of beneficial effects. These sugars serve as fertilizer for pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungi, which crowd our your good bacteria and upset the delicate balance in your gut.
What's more, if you eat a diet that is high in sugar, fructose and grains, the sugar gets metabolized to fat (and is stored as fat in your fat cells), which in turn releases surges in leptin, which sends signals that reduce hunger, increase fat burning and reduce fat storage. Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to it (just as your body can become resistant to insulin).
And when you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer hear the messages telling it to stop eating and burn fat -- so it remains hungry and stores more fat.
Leptin-resistance also causes an increase in visceral fat, sending you on a vicious cycle of hunger, fat storage and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more. Ditching sugar and grains isn't necessarily as hard as you think, especially when you replace them with satiating healthy foods like grass-fed meats, raw dairy and fresh produce. This is the key to beating your sugar addiction in the long run, as it will help you feel full and satisfied without dipping into the cookie jar.
Exercise: Another Key to Zapping Visceral Fat
Exercise not only lowers inflammation in your body and normalizes your leptin levels, it is also one of the best weapons to fight visceral fat. A comprehensive program is best, as strength training, acceleration training and Peak Fitness can all help you burn body fat, including visceral fat.
There's good news for those of you who feel you don't have time to workout, as there is a growing body of excellent scientific research showing that you can perform a significantly SHORTER workout, at a greater intensity, and get BETTER results than the usual, time-consuming cardio routines.
The reason for this is because high-intensity exercises like my Peak Fitness program engage type II muscle fibers that you cannot engage through aerobic cardio, and engaging these muscle fibers causes a cascade of positive health benefits, including improved fat burning. Peak Fitness exercises will also boost your body's natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), which is a vital hormone that is key for physical strength, health and longevity.
During these high-intensity exercises you raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 30 seconds, followed by a 90 second recovery period. The cycle is then repeated for a total of eight repetitions. Including a three-minute warm up and two-minute cool down, your total time investment is a mere 20 minutes as opposed to your regular hour-long treadmill session, and you are really only exerting yourself for four minutes.
So while the dietary approaches mentioned above will be key for preventing and recovering from leaky gut, a comprehensively healthy lifestyle that includes high-intensity exercise will be best for keeping away dangerous visceral fat.