Why The DEXA Scan Is The Gold Standard At Measuring Visceral Fat


WHY THE DEXA SCAN IS THE GOLD STANDARD AT MEASURING VISCERAL FATBody composition metrics are a key component of understanding one’s health especially when it comes to measuring visceral fat, which is a key contributor to a variety of health risks. While there are numerous methods to measure body fat, the Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan has emerged as the gold standard for accurately assessing visceral body fat for health professionals and individuals alike.

Why Is Visceral Fat Dangerous?

 Before we dive into why DEXA is the most accurate scan for measuring visceral fat, we should examine why visceral fat is dangerous to one’s health. There are two types of fat including subcutaneous fat, which lies directly underneath the skin, and visceral fat (sometimes called “active fat”) that lies behind the abdominal muscles surrounding the stomach, liver, intestines, and other organs.

Too much of either fat isn’t good for one’s health. But visceral fat produces chemicals and hormones that can create a cascade of physiological responses that can be toxic to the body. Visceral fat can raise the risk for Heart disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and high cholesterol. Even thin people who have visceral fat can be at risk for health issues.

Studies have shown a strong association between excess visceral fat and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, and abnormal cholesterol levels. This syndrome is a precursor to numerous health complications, from cardiovascular disease to kidney problems.

Visceral fat also exhibits a link to hormonal disruption. Abdominal obesity, driven by excess visceral fat, can disrupt the hormonal balance in the body, affecting the production of hormones such as insulin, estrogen, and leptin. This disruption can set the stage for a range of health concerns, from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) to increased susceptibility to certain cancers, including breast and colorectal cancer.

What Is DEXA Scan & What Are Its Advantages?

 Now that we have covered some of the dangers of visceral fat, let’s dive into what DEXA is in addition to its benefits when it comes to measuring body composition.

DEXA was originally developed to measure bone density but has since evolved into a versatile tool for body composition analysis including measuring lean muscle and body fat. The dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan uses two low-energy X-ray beams that allows the image to show both soft tissue and bone.

During the scan, the imaging arm moves slowly over the person’s body while a low-dose energy passes through them.

When DEXA is utilized to measure body composition, the machine scans the whole body to check skinfold thickness at specific sites. The measurements can then be plugged into an equation to calculate the percentage of body fat.

The DEXA scan is the preferred method for measuring bone and body composition largely due to the benefits below:

  • Exceptional Accuracy: DEXA stands out for its unparalleled accuracy when it comes to differentiating the different body tissues including bone, muscle, and fat. Unlike other methods, DEXA scans deliver a precise breakdown of fat distribution, including visceral fat.
  • Differentiates Fat Types: The precision of DEXA allows it to distinguish between the two fat types which offer insights on overall health of the individual being scanned.
  • Provides Quantitative & Qualitative Insights: In addition to quantifying visceral fat, DEXA produces qualitative information about its distribution, which is crucial information. Identifying the location of the visceral fat and determining its proximity to the body’s organs can impact how it effects one’s health.
  • Helps Identify Health Risks: Visceral fat is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. By accurately measuring visceral fat, the DEXA scan provides useful metrics that help health professionals assess a person’s susceptibility to these conditions in addition to creating an individualized plan for prevention or correction.
  • Long-Term Tracking Potential: The benefits one gets from the information the DEXA scan provides can extend beyond a single session. Since it can measure even the smallest changes, it is an optimal tool to monitor progress (or setbacks) of visceral fat levels over time for both individuals on a weight loss journey or those pursuing fitness goals.

DEXA’s Benefits To Clinicians & Individuals

 In addition to advantages the device itself offers, DEXA provides beneficial information that empowers clinicians and individuals including the ones below:

  • Personalized Health Plans: When healthcare providers get accurate readings about visceral fat, they can devise a plan best suited for the individual to reduce it whether that includes dietary modifications, exercise routines, or lifestyle changes.
  • Motivation & Accountability: Knowing precise visceral fat levels and its impact serves as a powerful motivational tool. Furthermore, seeing reductions in it over time can strengthen an individual’s commitment to staying on track with all their positive lifestyle changes.
  • Prevention: DEXA scan’s ability to predict risks related to visceral fat make early interventions possible. By utilizing the information from the scan, individuals can reduce the likelihood of developing chronic health conditions associated with visceral fat and enjoy a higher quality of life.

How DEXA Compares To Alternative Testing

 DEXA isn’t the only tool used to measure visceral fat. Below are some of the other methods utilized and how they compare to DEXA.

  • CT & MRI Scans: Both MRI and CT scans provide accurate visceral fat measurements. However, they are time consuming, unpleasant, costly, and expose individuals to ionizing radiation. DEXA scan on the other hand offers a safe, cost-effective, and quick alternative without compromising the accuracy of the results.
  • Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA): BIA estimates body composition by measuring electrical impedance throughout the body. However, its accuracy can be affected by factors such as the individual’s hydration levels or electrode placement, which can lead to inaccurate results. BIA doesn’t even compare to DEXA scan’s reliability in results, specifically for visceral fat.
  • Skinfold Measurements: Although not widely used, skinfold measurement results can be affected by skill level of the technician and the thickness of the subcutaneous fat layer. Making this technique unreliable when compared to DEXA’s consistently precise results.


 Obtaining accurate body composition readings, specifically visceral fat levels and locations, are vital when determining health risks associated with this type of fat. The DEXA scan’s exceptional accuracy, ability to differentiate between different types of fat, and capacity to predict health risks make it the unequivocal gold standard for quantifying visceral body fat. In a time where health and wellness are paramount, the DEXA scan offers a valuable tool for individuals, healthcare professionals, and researchers to make informed decisions and implement effective solutions geared towards obtaining optimal health.

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