The holiday season is filled with celebration and togetherness. However, this also means that due to the decreased temperatures, we are being less active while simultaneously eating more holiday meals and snacks. This can lead to the dreaded “winter weight,” which many of us have trouble losing once the festivities are over.
While having love handles or a belly is typically undesired, a new study finds that this is not the type of fat accumulation people should be most worried about. Increases in visceral or organ fat are more concerning.
A new study conducted at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), in collaboration with the Dimona Nuclear Research Center and Soroka University Medical Center in Israel, Harvard University, and Leipzig University in Germany found diverse changes in the array of organ fat storage pools during 18 months of a Mediterranean/low carb and low-fat diets, with or without exercise.
A Mediterranean diet is rich in unsaturated fats and low in carbohydrates.
Studies have shown that those with increased visceral fat have increased blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, and lower levels of good cholesterol called HDL. Increased levels of visceral fat also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, asthma, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. Individuals with high visceral fat levels have a higher risk of death than even their visually obese counterparts, according to previously done studies.
“Weighing patients or using blood tests to detect changes, hasn’t, until now, given us accurate pictures, literally, of how different fat deposits are impacted disproportionately by diet and exercise. These findings suggest that moderate exercise combined with a Mediterranean/low carb diet may help reduce the amount of some fat deposits even if you don’t lose significant weight as part of the effort,” says Prof. Iris Shai, the primary investigator of the CENTRAL MRI trial.
The researchers go on to say that even with only moderately observed weight loss, while adhering to a Mediterranean/low carb diet, significant decreases in internal fat storage pool was observed. This includes visceral (abdominal deep), intra-hepatic (liver), intra-pericardial (heart), and pancreatic fats.
Much of the research was made possible by collecting whole body MRI data and benchmarking scans taken at six and 18 months, from moderately overweight to obese men and women. This study marks the first-time diverse changes in body organ fat were documented in response to distinct lifestyle changes.
The results of this study found that moderate but persistent weight loss may have dramatic beneficial effects on the body, essentially protecting against diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Improvements in cardio-metabolic states and reversal of carotid atherosclerosis were also seen when consuming a Mediterranean/low carb diet.
The loss of visceral fat or hepatic fat was seen to have pronounced effects on improving blood lipid levels alone. Additionally, losing deep subcutaneous fat was associated with improved insulin sensitivity.
“In conclusion, the [CENTRAL] study demonstrates that improving nutritional quality and being physically active can improve cardio-metabolic risk markers through changes in visceral/ectopic fat deposits that are not reflected by changes in body weight alone,” says Prof. Shai.