Visceral Fat Increases Cancer Risk

fat man cooking vegetables
June 10, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Most people I meet who are concerned with weight are concerned about appearance.

They want to fit into an old pair of jeans, or are worried about bathing suit season.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not interested in appearance. We all come in different shapes and sizes. I’ve had rail-thin patients who were extremely unhealthy. I know rotund folk who run marathons.

Shape doesn’t define you, and it certainly isn’t a sure indicator of health.

However, if you carry extra weight—not by some magazine cover’s standards, but according to the design of your personal body—it can be a sign of danger.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday, Dwayne came to see me at my practice. Dwayne is 52, and last year had a bad scare.

He was showing a number of pre-cancerous indicators. Together, we determined the biggest problem for him was his weight. He was carrying extra visceral fat—fat around his organs—that was interfering with the proper functioning of his body.

So, motivated by an imminent heath risk, he buckled down. He ate right. He exercised. And, after reducing his visceral fat, the pre-cancerous indicators subsided.

But last night, he came back to me with visceral fat once more interfering with his organs. Thanks to a stressful period in his life, Dwayne had fallen back upon bad habits. He stopped tracking his nutrition, and poor foods were again poisoning him.

He’s rededicating himself again now, and I’m hopeful Dwayne will reduce that visceral fat again.

But Dwayne is an excellent example of how hard it is to live a healthy lifestyle. Because—even though he wasn’t heavy by society’s standards—he had the wrong kind of fat, in the wrong place. And it put him back into a danger.

The solution is simple. It isn’t easy—but anyone can do it. And we’re finding out now, it’s more important than ever.

Obesity Equals Cancer

Study after study has proven obesity increases the risk of cancer.

The problem is visceral fat—the fat that’s stored in your abdomen, around your organs.

This isn’t like subcutaneous fat—the fat underneath your skin. No, visceral fat is very different.

It isn’t about your cosmetic appearance. Although it is most often linked to general obesity, depending on your genetic proclivities, you can have dangerous amounts of visceral fat while still appearing skinny.

Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is visible in CT scans. It’s quite dense.

And it’s damaging in several ways.

Visceral fat creates inflammatory cytokines. When your organs become inflamed, they get damaged. That damage itself can turn into cancer.

But simply repairing that damage can also be dangerous.

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That’s because, every time you repair cells or build replacement ones, your body needs to copy your DNA. Make enough copies, and the odds increase that there will be an error that sneaks through. These are called transcription errors, and a mistake in your DNA copies can turn into cancer as well.

At the same time the cells in your organs are inflamed, the visceral fat surrounding your organs squeezes them. It’s a double-bind, creating even more damage.

But it gets worse. Visceral fat acts as a toxic storage depot, regularly releasing unprocessed poisons into your body. Those toxic substances can also lead to cancer.

Visceral fat—in the form of obesity—has been linked to all sorts of cancers. Cancers of the esophagus, kidney, bowel, gallbladder, uterus, ovaries, pancreas: they’ve all been linked to obesity.

Now, a new study shows that obesity doesn’t just increase your risk of cancer. It also hurts your prognosis once you’re diagnosed.

Using a novel scoring system, the team conducting the study found that healthier colorectal cancer patients had a 28% to 31% greater survival rate than those who were obese or inactive.

While this initial study only looked at one type of cancer, it’s highly likely the results will hold steady across all sorts of organ cancers—especially the organs surrounded by the visceral fat of the abdomen.

The Best Cancer Treatment We Have

I know it may feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but there’s no way around it. Diet and exercise are the greatest predictors of longevity and health.

We spend all our time looking for the fountain of youth, when the truth is, we already have it. But because this fountain of youth requires some effort, too many people ignore it.

Now is the time to do something about it. If you haven’t already, the present is the best possible time to dedicate yourself to your health.

The formula is easy. Avoid processed foods. Exercise at least a little every day—and try to have one or two more intense sessions every week.

This doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, I find that regular exercise and eating delicious, fresh food ups the quality of my life, and the life of anyone else I’ve ever spoken with.

This sort of healthy eating and exercising might give you a different shape. It might not make much outward difference at all.

But I’m concerned with the changes inside your body. And a healthy diet and exercise is the best way to tackle visceral fat.

Here’s an easy trick—eat seasonally. Go to your local farmer’s market or fresh food store, and buy what’s in season.

That will ensure you’re eating fresh, unprocessed food. But it also will ensure you’re eating tastier food too—no more styrofoam strawberries in the middle of winter.

And it will keep your diet interesting, as the seasons naturally cycle through a variety of tastes. The exact tastes and nutrients that your body craves at each step, incidentally.

Combine that with an exercise regimen, and you’ll greatly reduce your odds of getting something ugly like pancreatic cancer.

And, should you get unlucky, your odds of beating your disease will increase dramatically as well.

There’s no downside here—and nearly unlimited upside. The power is entirely in your hands.

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