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Not All Fat Is Created Equal

  • Faith Lapidus

Adipose tissue – better known as fat – has an essential role in maintaining our body. Fat provides the energy we need to function, but too much fat increases our risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer. But not all fat is created equal, as Faith Lapidus reports.

A new study from Temple University in Philadelphia reveals that the fat in obese people is dysfunctional. Endocrinologist Guenther Boden examined fat cells from obese and lean people, and found a striking difference at the cellular level. "There are all kinds of abnormalities [in the fat from obese people] that make it hard for the adipose tissue to do what it's supposed to do, namely to store excess nutrients and excess calories in the form of fat."

If the fat tissue on our hips and buttocks is dysfunctional, the excess calories have to be stored somewhere else. So they become fat cells in other organs, such as the liver and skeletal muscle… and that, Boden says, can have serious consequences.

He outlines what can happen if you accumulate too much fat in your liver. "A certain percentage of fatty livers become inflamed and then you have real problems, and eventually a certain percentage goes into cirrhosis, and some of these cirrhotic livers then turn into liver cancer, so you've got all sorts of bad consequences from storing too much fat in your liver." Muscle tissue that is storing too much fat becomes unresponsive to insulin, and that can lead to diabetes and hypertension.

Boden, a specialist in diabetes, stresses that there is no evidence that dysfunctional fat cells are responsible for this fat infiltration into other organs and the resulting disease… although he admits it makes sense and is an area for further study.

There has been no research yet on whether losing weight can make dysfunctional fat cells healthy again, but Boden points out that losing weight can make a person healthier. "Just losing a few pounds will have very, very beneficial effects, very soon."

Guenther Boden's study appears in the September issue of Diabetes.

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