adipose tissue | fat |www.sizefantastic.com.au

Most people think of fat as this blob of buttery stuff sitting there passively just under there skin.  Most people don’t realise that fat or adipose tissue in the body behaves much like an organ than a passive blob, and that their fat or adipose tissue can also influence how fat they become.  So here are some “body fat facts”:

Adipose tissue, also known as body fat, is essential for health. It might surprise you, but we all need it and our bodies can’t actually work without it. In basic terms it is basically just loose connective tissue filling the gaps between organs and tissues.

As mammals, we are born with two different types of adipose tissue: white adipose tissue (most common) and brown adipose tissue. This tissue provides us with insulation, acts as a place for energy storage in times of starvation or physical exertion (e.g. when we exercise), and serves as a layer of protection for our organs and tissues. Meanwhile, brown adipose tissue is mostly found in newborns. Its main function is to generate body heat and also provide protection and padding for the body. E.g. If you’ve ever wondered why babies are so plump and chubby, it’s because they have a thicker layer of adipose tissue to protect them while they’re learning to be mobile.

In addition to the above two fat types, adipose tissue is also categorized by where it is stored. You may have heard about visceral fat. Visceral fat is the fat that lies deep within your body wrapped around your inner organs.  People with large waists or stomachs usually have visceral fat. It is the fat most linked to a range of troubling health conditions including diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It has even been found to lead to dementia in obese adults [1]. On the other hand, subcutaneous fat is much different to visceral fat as it is found directly under the skin and is not known to cause as many problems as its ‘deeper fat’ counterpart.

Now let’s talk about how our fat cells work…

We are all born with a certain number of fat cells. When these cells get full (from the fat we eat), they divide to make more. Unfortunately, once we have made more fat cells they are there to stay! But you might ask: what if we lose weight? Well, they will shrink but not completely disappear. You will always have the affinity to make more.

I like to use the ‘store shed’ analogy. If you live in a house and are in a habit of hoarding, you will quickly fill up your storage space. One solution might be to build more storage, like a shed. But you are in a habit of storing so you quickly fill this up too. One day you might decide to get rid of all the stuff you don’t want, so you clear out the shed and have a garage sale. But clearing out the shed doesn’t make the shed go away. From now on you will always have the ability to store more than you need, and it will be easier because you have that extra space. It works the exact same way with the fat cells in our body. With all those extra fat cells hanging around in our body, we will end up craving more highly fatty foods in the hope of satisfying these hungry cells.

This leads us to how our fat tissue influences our appetite. Our fat cells secrete a hormone called Leptin, which helps to regulate energy by impeding hunger. Basically, when one is obese, the leptin hormone doesn’t work as it should. Obese individuals will find they can no longer detect that they are full, leading to an increase in unnecessary food consumption.

Stress also plays a role with fat. A highly stressed state will increase fat receptors in your gut, so you can store fat more easily. One interesting thing that happens in response to stress is our food preferences change.  Our taste buds have a preference for sweeter foods, and we have increased tolerance for fatty foods.  Making us more likely to consume or seek out high carb food, and often these are also high in fat if they are processed food, and where normally we might register satiety from such a meal, when we are stressed, we are able to eat more before noticing.

Also in times of stress, the stress response will call for instant energy, meaning that it will use and burn glucose and glycogen for preferred fuel, and will typically hold onto its fat, meaning that instead of burning fat it will burn sugar. People often wonder why they end up storing more fat in response to ongoing (chronic) stress. For more info about stress and weight, check out our blog post on Size Fantastic called “Stress and Your Weight: Is Stress to Blame for Your Weight Gain?”

So remember, your adipose tissue will influence your appetite, it will influence how much fat you are able to store, and depending where it is laid down, it can also either positively or negatively affect your health.

References:

[1] Whitmer et al. (2008). Central obesity and increased risk of dementia more than three decades later. Neurology, 71(14). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18367704

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Posted on Apr 19, 2016 - Last updated on Apr 19, 2016

About the Author

Lisa Cutforth is the founder of Size Fantastic. A nutritionist and foodie with a degree in Nutrition with Psychology and a passion for health, Lisa’s ambition is to take health off the “too hard” shelf and restore her clients confidence in themselves and their ability to heal and be well… Size Fantastic to us means: looking and feeling great, inside and out!

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