The Science Behind Fat Cells: What You Need To Know

Overweight man's stomach with illustration of fat cells

Fat cells, also called adipocytes, are what make up adipose tissue (body fat). These cells are the energy from food that is then stored as fat. When we take in more calories than we burn in a day, our fat cells grow, leading to weight gain and other health problems.

Body fat is most often located underneath your skin, called subcutaneous fat. It’s also found around the body’s organs, or visceral fat. Fat’s concentration in your body varies based on your sex. Adult men tend to carry body fat in the chest, abdomen, and buttocks. While adult women tend to carry it in their breasts, hips, waist, and buttocks.

After puberty, the body does not usually generate new fat cells, even if it’s storing more fat. Rather, the cells that already exist just increase in size. The two exceptions to this rule are if an adult gains a significant amount of weight or undergoes liposuction.

The Role of Fat Cells

As more energy gets stored within fat cells, they begin to expand. This is why when you have a high concentration of fat, you weigh more. The energy sits there, waiting to be used.

So what do you do when you use up your body’s available energy, or calories, but continue needing more? For example, when you consume 2,000 calories in a day and burn off 2,000 through exercise but continue to work out. In this case, your body will use the fat stored in adipose tissue as energy. This is how weight loss works. Burning more calories than you have available then uses the energy stored as fat to shrink the fat cells.

If you’re not burning your available calories, your fat cells will continue to grow. Fat cells are part of the body’s endocrine system. If they grow too large, they can’t self-regulate and begin secreting chemicals. Fat cells are currently known to secrete over 100 chemicals. These chemicals lead to obesity as well as Type 2 Diabetes, stroke, heart complications, and metabolic syndrome. They also affect bodily issues such as inflammation.

Why Fat Cells Are Essential

Having excess body fat is not good for your health, but having at least a little bit of fat is necessary. Triglycerides in fat cells act as energy reserves when you use up your body’s available energy. Additionally, fat cells cushion vital organs, insulate the body, and protect nerve tissue.

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