Can Your Mental Health Affect How Much Belly Fat You Have?

Are you an apple or a pear? According to WebMD, where you tend to store most of your body fat can tell you a lot about how much visceral fat you might have. If you carry most of your fat around your waist–an apple–it might be a sign that you have more visceral fat. Visceral fat isn't always noticeable because it's the fat around your organs. Compared to the subcutaneous fat that's just under your skin, visceral fat is connected to heart disease, Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and high cholesterol.

Visceral fat might also be connected to your mental health. A 2009 study in Psychosomatic Medicine suspected that central visceral adipose tissue, or belly fat around the organs, might be the link between depression and cardiovascular disease. The study recruited 409 women whose average age was 50. The majority of the women were obese, and 20% were smokers. The researchers measured their levels of visceral fat and levels of depression.

The relationship of mental health and visceral fat

The study found that the higher the levels of depression, the higher the amount of visceral adipose tissue. Women who were clinically depressed had 24.5% more visceral fat than women who had lower depression scores. Study authors suggested that depression might increase cortisol levels, which subsequently increases visceral fat. Both depression and visceral fat have been found to cause inflammation in the body. A 2022 review in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism found that obesity can increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety because brain-gut inflammation affects our emotional centers in the brain. 

However, researchers aren't sure what causes what. According to a 2022 review in Neural Regeneration Research, "Obesity is associated with many pathophysiological changes that have the potential to affect the brain negatively, leading to inflammation, which in turn can be both a cause and a consequence of obesity. It is also possible that reduced cognitive function, in particular executive dysfunction, may predispose individuals to obesity."