Body fat serves a purpose and we all need some!
It insulates and cushions our organs. It also can help us survive by providing fuel for our bodies if food isn’t available. Like most good things, some is good, more is less good and too much can be bad.
Susan Fried, PhD, director of the Boston Obesity and Nutrition Research Center at Boston University is a long-time researcher of fat. Dr. Fried explains, “fat is known to have two purposes. Fat stores excess calories in a safe way so you can mobilize the fat stores when you’re hungry. Fat releases hormones that control metabolism.”
Some body fats are friendly!
Brown fat is a friendly kind of body fat. It’s called “brown fat” because it’s actually reddish-brown in color.
Brown fat creates heat. Its color is because it’s loaded with the power producers in cells, called mitochondria. Mitochondria give cells energy by turning calories into heat.
Philipp Scherer, PhD. is a professor of internal medicine and cell biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. According to Dr. Scherer, “everyone is born with brown fat. Babies have an abundance of it. It helps keep them warm as they exit the womb. But people tend to lose brown fat as they get older.” He also tells us researchers haven’t figured why we lose brown fat.
My personal, unproven scientific theory is that in ancient times when we didn’t spend most of our time in climate controlled environments, and food required a lot of work to gather or hunt, brown fat was a liability. It would reduce our chances for survival by wasting precious calories.
Brown fat might make up a small amount of an adult’s total body fat. Research shows some adults, however, have unexpected higher levels of brown fat. Leaner people tend to have more brown fat than overweight people.
That would explain to me why my skinny friends seem to eat similarly to me but unlike me, they stay lean while I can easily put on pounds. Brown fat can be stimulated to burn calories. Discovering a way to increase brown fat could be a potential treatment for obesity. I hope scientists are working on that. I need some more of that brown fat!
When I think about white fat, I think of the white fat we remove from our red meat. I don’t know if that’s how it looks on humans. According to most experts, it is much more plentiful than brown fat. White fat stores energy and makes the hormones that get secreted into the bloodstream.
Turns out our white fat is a friendly fat. It is necessary for good health. A hormone called adiponectin is produced by white fat. It makes the liver and muscles sensitive to another hormone known as insulin. That process actually makes us less susceptible to diabetes and heart disease.
You would think that if white fat makes us less susceptible to diabetes and heart disease, then the more fat, the better. Well, I guess if white fat was the only fat we gained, but that isn’t so. Weight gain is more complex than simply gaining white fat. We gain visceral and subcutaneous fat.
Visceral fat, the kind that is inside the belly and surrounds vital organs increases. When visceral fat increases, the production of adiponectin slows or even shuts down. The lower levels of adiponectin are linked with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Some studies also suggest that reduced levels of adiponectin are associated with higher prevalence of coronary artery disease as well as a higher risk of heart attack. Low levels of adiponectin may be predictive of future coronary events.
Losing weight and the subsequent reduction of visceral fat increases adiponectin and seems to increase insulin sensitivity. It explains why people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can reverse the disease without medication just by losing weight.