What Are Fat Cells?

Fat cells, also called adipocytes, are what make up adipose tissue (body fat), energy from food that’s 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 (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.

How Do They Work?

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

If you’re able to use up your body’s available energy (calories) but continue needing energy—i.e. you consume 2,000 calories in a day and burn off 2,000 through exercise but continue to work out—your body will use the fat stored in adipose tissue as energy. This is, essentially, how weight loss works. Burning more calories than you have available and, in turn, using the energy stored as fat to “shrink” the fat cells.

However, 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, and if they grow too large, they are unable to self-regulate and they begin secreting chemicals. Fat cells are currently known to secrete over 100 chemicals. These chemicals lead to health complications arising, such as obesity and obesity related diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, stroke, heart complications and metabolic syndrome. They also affect bodily issues such as inflammation.

Why Are Fat Cells Important?

Having excess body fat is not good for your health, but having at least a little bit of fat is necessary. Fat helps us maintain proper health, as the triglycerides that are stored in fat cells act as energy reserves that are needed once you use up your body’s available energy. Additionally, fat cells cushion vital organs, insulate the body to protect against heat loss and protect nerve tissue.

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