Fat; body fat
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 (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.
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 tissue 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 the actions of these hormones, adipose tissue plays an important role in the regulation of glucose, cholesterol and the metabolism of sex hormones.
A number of different hormones are released from adipose tissue and these are responsible for different functions within the body. Examples of these are:
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.
Last reviewed: Feb 2018