Fat cells…what are they?
There is a LOT of information out there about fat and fat cells and how to manage them. There is so much advice out there one’s head veritably swims with wondering what is the best way to manage your weight. This article is the first of a series on a new way to treat fat and fat cells. This first one we are going to get our arms around what a fat cell is, what it contains and how it behaves.
Fat cells are called adipocytes. They are signet shaped. The signet is the nucleus. They carry a drop of triglyceride (fat) in the largest part of them. Fat cells are forever. When we lose weight, we don’t lose fat cells we lose the triglyceride in the cell in order to shrink it.
So why do we have fat cells? What do they do for us? Fat cells are hoarders of vitamins and triglycerides that the body can’t make itself. Fat cells store energy (kind of), protect vital organs, insulate us from cold and heat. Fat cells acts as messengers, start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction and basic metabolism. Fat cells also store fat soluble vitamins along with organophosphates and other environmental poisons to sequester them away from the greater body system. Estrogen is also stored in fat cells.
The blue ball on the left represents the nucleus, and crowded around it are the other structures of pretty much any nucleated cell. There is the Golgi apparatus to get rid of waste, the endoplasmic reticulum to regulate protein and lipid synthesis and cell receptors and transporters on the outside of the cell, and the big drop of triglycerides in the cell that is what makes it a fat cell. Triglycerides are fats.
So, how do the triglycerides get there in the first place? “Excess carbohydrate or protein in the diet is converted to triglyceride and stored in the lipid droplets of adipocytes.” https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g7257 If you are struggling to understand how weight and fat cells the link takes you to a fascinating article of how we may have some misconceptions about fat.
Adipocytes are very dynamic and incredibly important in the body. The receptors on the outside of the cell speak to its complexity and importance. As you can see this cell interacts with insulin, growth hormone, leptin, estrogen, vitamin D, glucagon, Thyroid stimulating hormone among other hormones. This is one dynamic cell! This cell is all about how we store “fat”. Do some of the terms listed seem familiar to you? They should. Insulin, Thyroid Stimulating hormone, androgen and estrogen hint that fat cells interact with many of the systems that are associated with weight loss and weight gain. The process is daunting in its complexity. Let’s suffice it to say the process is not just calories in and calories out.
Fat cells form from 14-23 weeks in a fetus. (https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Adipose_Tissue_Development). The number of fat cells in both fat and thin people are set by adolescence. During adulthood about 8% of fat cells die every year to be replaced resulting in a relatively constant number of fat cells in the body of the adult according to a new Swiss study by Kirsty Spaulding. (http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2008/05/04/fat-cell-number-is-set-in-childhood-and-stays-constant-in-ad/ ) What this shows is that losing and gaining weight is the filling and emptying of the adipocyte. This also is why there is such a high regain rate of weight. When the cell is emptied it sends out a hormone (leptin) to increase appetite to refill it. This is the reason diets don’t work, there needs to be a lifestyle change. In our next article we will discuss some less talked about lifestyle changes…and talk about some really empowering ways to understand our bodies and how to prevent dis-ease. Talk to you then!
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