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Adipose tissue

Print Print | Email  Email article to a friend | Last updated: October 24, 2013

Adipose tissue (body fat) is crucial for health. Along with fat cells, adipose tissue contains numerous nerve cells and blood vessels, storing and releasing energy to fuel the body and releasing important hormones vital to the body’s needs.

Alternative names for adipose tissue

Fat; body fat.

Where is my adipose tissue?

Adipose tissue is commonly known as body fat. It is found all over the body. It can be found under the skin (subcutaneous fat), packed around internal organs (visceral fat), between muscles, within bone marrow and in breast tissue. Men tend to store more visceral fat (around their internal organs), leading to obesity around the middle of their abdomen. However, women tend to store more subcutaneous fat within the buttocks and thighs. These differences are due to the sex hormones produced by males and females.

What does adipose tissue do?

Adipose tissue is now known to be a very important and active endocrine organ. It is well established that adipocytes, (or fat cells), play a vital role in the storage and release of energy throughout the human body. More recently, the endocrine function of adipose has been discovered. In addition to adipocytes, adipose tissue contains numerous other cells that are able to produce certain hormones in response to signals from the rest of the organs throughout the body. Through these hormones’ actions, adipose tissue plays an important role in the regulation of glucose, cholesterol and the metabolism of sex hormones.

What hormones does adipose tissue produce?

A number of different hormones are released from adipose tissue and these are responsible for different functions within the body. Examples of these are:

  1. Aromatase which is involved in sex hormone metabolism.
     
  2. TNF Alpha, IL-6 and leptin which are collectively termed ‘cytokines’ and are involved in sending messages between cells.
     
  3. Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 which is involved in the clotting of blood.
     
  4. Angiotensin which is involved in blood pressure control.
     
  5. Adiponectin which improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin and so helps to protect against developing type 2 diabetes.
     
  6. Lipoprotein lipase and apolipoprotein E which are involved in storage and metabolism of fat to release energy.

What could go wrong with adipose tissue?

Both too much and too little adipose tissue can have severe health implications. More commonly, too much adipose tissue leads to obesity, mainly from too much visceral fat. Obesity leads to a number of serious health problems. Obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as it causes the body to become resistant to insulin. This resistance results in high levels of blood sugar which is bad for health. Obesity also increases the chance of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and an increased tendency for blood to clot. All of these raise the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

A lack of adipose tissue (lipodystrophy) can also cause similar problems and is seen with increasing frequency as a result of medication used to treat HIV/AIDS.

In eating disorders (such as anorexia nervosa), the patient does not eat enough food to maintain their adipose tissues levels. This means that they can lose a dangerous amount of body weight.

 

Written: March 2011

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