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Knowing the Difference Between Subcutaneous and Visceral Fat

Fat has had a pretty bad reputation. When it comes to fat, people usually think – the lesser the better. But regardless of your body shape or size, excess fat isn’t good for anyone. In most people, about 90% of their body fat consists of subcutaneous fat. And the remaining 10% consists of visceral fat. But what exactly is the difference between subcutaneous and visceral fat? And are Coolsculpting and SculpSure the most effective treatments that are available in Singapore?

Here’s what you should know about the differences between subcutaneous and visceral fat. As well as how CoolSculpting and Sculpsure are used to treat them here in Singapore.

Why do we have fat?

Fat or adipose tissue is a loose connective tissue mostly composed of fat cells and plays a major role in the storage of energy in the form of lipids. Additionally, it also serves as an important cushion and insulates the body from heat and cold1. As for the amount and distribution of adipose tissue throughout the body, it is then completely dependent on physiological, psychosocial, and genetic factors.

The fat that exists within our body is classified into two main categories – subcutaneous and visceral fat. The fat that lies beneath the skin is called subcutaneous adipose tissue (subcutaneous fat), where the one lining internal organs is termed visceral adipose tissue (visceral fat)2.

Comparing Subcutaneous and Visceral Fat

Subcutaneous Fat

Visceral Fat

Located between the upper layer of the skin and the underlying muscles, subcutaneous fat forms a crucial part of the hypodermis or innermost skin layer.

Containing an extensive network of nerves and blood vessels, the hypodermis helps maintain body temperature. Apart from this, it also acts as energy storage and gives your muscles protection from potential damages caused by impact with other surfaces.

Known informally as ‘hidden’ fat, visceral body fat is located deep within the abdomen, beneath the abdominal muscles. It functions as a protective layer to the internal organs such as kidneys and liver, by surrounding the organs and important blood vessels with a layer of fat.
Dangers of excess subcutaneous fat
Dangers of excess visceral fat
Although subcutaneous fat plays a beneficial role in several functions of the body, too much of a good thing can adversely affect your health. For example, accumulation of excess subcutaneous fat in the body leaves the skin looking saggy and striated

This apart, excess subcutaneous fat levels are an indication of obesity which in turn raises the body blood pressure and strains the heart.

When excess fat accumulates in the body, especially abdominal fat, it disrupts the normal balance and functioning of essential hormones in the body. One reason why excess visceral fat is so harmful could be its location near the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver.

Substances that are released by visceral fat, including free fatty acids, enter the portal vein and travel to the liver. Excess visceral fat is also directly linked with higher total cholesterol as well as insulin resistance.

Measuring fat in the body

It is important for us to measure the amount of body fat because it can work to serve as a starting point for a fat loss program.

That pair of jeans that you can no longer fit into might be a good indication that you have gained more fat, but how do you know if the excess fat you’ve gained is subcutaneous or visceral?

When it comes to measuring the fat in our bodies, we want to be as precise as we can.

1. Tape Measure

The good ol’ tape measure is a great way to check if you are carrying too much fat. While you may have a healthy BMI, there is still a likelihood of you carrying excess fat.

Place the tape measure level with your navel – not at the narrowest part of your torso. Do not suck in your stomach or pull the tape tight so that the area compresses. For women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or more is typically considered a sign of excess fat; and for men, waist sizes more than 40 inches are tell-tale signs of excess fat in the mid-section.

While tape measures are a great way to gauge if you are carrying excess fat in your body, it is not a precise measurement for body composition.

a girl using fat calliper to measure her waist
2. Skinfold Calipers

Skinfold calipers are designed to measure the thickness of the fat in millimeters. In order to accurately to measure your fat with the skinfold caliper, simply grab a fold of skin in a particular area and hold the fold between your fingers. Lastly, attach the caliper clamps onto the fold and take note of the thickness in millimeters.

However, these results could differ based on how much pressure you apply when you are holding your skin, leaving room for human error for this technique.

3. InBody Test

The InBody medical-grade tests allow for accurate body composition testing that provides detailed information on muscle mass, body fat as well as total body water. The test is also able to show direct segmental measurements and regards the human body as five cylinders: left arm, right arm, the torso, the left leg, and lastly the right leg. It independently measures each cylinder and provides accurate measurements of fat percentage for the entire body.

At Ensoul Body Medical Clinic, the body assessment utilizes the InBody test in order to provide a detailed analysis for both the patient as well as the doctor.

This not only helps the patient understand where the body fat is more concentrated, but also ensures that the right modalities are recommended to the patient and that a treatment plan is crafted based on the test results.

Measuring Visceral Fat

As visceral fat is wrapped around the organs and cannot typically be seen on the surface, it becomes a little more challenging than simply picking up a tape measure. Hence,  standard methods for visceral fat diagnosis are with a CT or MRI scan.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Computed tomography scans are generally considered as the gold standard modality for measuring visceral fat as a result of their ability to provide direct measures of VAT (visceral adipose tissue) cross-sectional areas3.

Non-invasive Fat Removal Treatments

While visceral fat requires a proper diagnosis as well as a separate treatment plan, procedures such as CoolSculpting and SculpSure are able to effectively target and treat subcutaneous fats. CoolSculpting and SculpSure are both non-invasive fat removal treatments available in Singapore. Both require no anesthesia, no downtime, and fat elimination takes place naturally.

Coolsculpting in Singapore

This is a non-invasive fat reduction procedure that targets fat cells with sub-zero temperatures and destroys them, as a result. Known as Cryolipolysis, the technique is able to cause a cell death without harming the surrounding skin or tissues. The procedure takes around 45 minutes to complete, and the damaged fat cells are eliminated through the body’s lymphatic system.

SculpSure in Singapore

This non-invasive fat reduction procedure uses lasers to create heat energy and target fat cells in the treatment area. Known as laser lipolysis, the induced heat from the lasers is able to penetrate deep into the subcutaneous layers, causing the fat cells to break down. Subsequently, the broken-down fat cells are then eliminated through the body’s lymphatic system as well.

Both Coolsculpting and Sculpsure are approved in Singapore for the treatment of fat cells.SculpSure in Singapore

a women going through a coolsculpting for her body contouring treatment

Fat reduction is not all about looking for the fastest method in order to fit into a skinny jeans. It is important that a detailed body assessment is carried out so that you are able to have a comprehensive analysis of what needs to be tackled.

References: 1. Mittal B. (2019). Subcutaneous adipose tissue & visceral adipose tissue. The Indian journal of medical research, 149(5), 571–573. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1910_18 2. Klopfenstein, B. J., Kim, M. S., Krisky, C. M., Szumowski, J., Rooney, W. D., & Purnell, J. Q. (2012). Comparison of 3 T MRI and CT for the measurement of visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue in humans. The British journal of radiology, 85(1018), e826–e830. https://doi.org/10.1259/bjr/57987644 3. Patlas, M.N., Pinthus, J.H., & Mourtzakis, M. (2012) Computed Tomography (CT) Assessment of Visceral Adiposity. OMICS J Radiology. 1:e107. doi: 10.4172/2167-7964.1000e107