Dr Zoe Williams discusses visceral fat on This Morning
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This was a question researchers sought to answer earlier this year when they published a paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Their study consisted of 12 healthy individuals who were not obese and each spent two 21-day sessions running a specific sleep pattern.
Some were asked to sleep a “normal” sleep pattern while others were asked to experience a restricted sleep pattern; each participant had free access to a range of food during the study.
As part of the research, their body weight, body composition, and fat distribution were monitored, so too were appetite biomarkers.
What did they find?
The researchers found that a lack of sleep led to a nine percent increase in levels of total visceral fat and an 11 percent increase in the amount of abdominal visceral fat.
Furthermore, they found that those who were on the restricted sleep pattern ate 300 extra calories a day, 13 percent more protein, but importantly 17 percent more fat; this increase tapered off during the recovery period.
While lack of sleep is sometimes not the choice of the person in question, in conditions such as insomnia or in shift work, a number of people choose to have less sleep.
Dr Virend Somers said: “Our findings show that shortened sleep, even in young, healthy and relatively lean subjects, is associated with an increase in calorie intake, a very small increase in weight, and a significant increase in fat accumulation inside the belly.”
Dr Somers explained: “Normally, fat is preferentially deposited subcutaneously or under the skin. However, the inadequate sleep appears to redirect fat to the more dangerous visceral compartment.
“Importantly, although during recovery sleep there was a decrease in calorie intake and weight, visceral fat continued to increase. This suggests that inadequate sleep is a previously unrecognised trigger for visceral fat deposition, and that catch-up sleep, at least in the short term, does not reverse the visceral fat accumulation.”
Dr Somers said their findings “implicate inadequate sleep as a contributor to the epidemics of obesity, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases”.
The reason for this is because high levels of visceral fat can increase someone’s likelihood of heart disease and a range of other conditions such as cancer and diabetes.
On the fat build-up, Dr Covassin said: “The visceral fat accumulation was only detected by a CT scan and would otherwise have been missed, especially since the increase in weight was quite modest – only about a pound.
“Measures of weight alone would be falsely reassuring in terms of the health consequences of inadequate sleep.
“Also concerning are the potential effects of repeated periods of inadequate sleep in terms of progressive and cumulative increases in visceral fat over several years.”
While a lack of sleep can lead to an increase in levels of visceral fat, there are other factors which can have an influence.
These include unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking, both of which can contribute to an increased likelihood of chronic or deadly conditions such as cancer and liver disease.
Furthermore, inactivity and a diet high in sugar and salt can also play a role in someone’s likelihood of growing how much visceral fat they have.
As a result, the best methods of reducing levels include eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding detrimental lifestyle habits.
As well as improving physical health, losing visceral fat through exercise can also help improve mental health as well.
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