Get to Know Your Fat

Despite what you may believe, not all fat is created equal.

There are actually several different types of fat. It may come as a surprise to you that some fats are extremely beneficial. On the other hand, some fats can potentially increase your risk of developing an illness or disease.  So let’s get to know your fat!

Types of Fat

Usually when people talk about fat, they are referring to white fat, known as white adipocytes. White adipocytes are the white fat cells that make up white adipose tissue (WAT).  WAT is a concentrated stored source of energy and is actually white due to a low content of mitochondria (the tiny little machinery inside of cells that produce energy).  When your body does not have carbohydrates readily available as a source of energy, it turns to WAT for energy.  Not only does WAT provide an alternative source of energy but it also serves as insulation for your organs and your body.  Too much white fat in the wrong locations can cause your body to build up resistance to insulin, which may lead to the development of Type II Diabetes.

The cool part about fat is that it can also burn energy!  This type of fat is called brown fat or brown adipose tissue (BAT).  Just as WAT has a white appearance due to its low concentration of mitochondria, BAT’s brown color is due to its high concentration of mitochondria.  BAT helps maintain core body temperature.  BAT is found in high concentrations in babies and decreases as you get older.  People that live in colder climates have a high percentage of BAT to help generate heat.  Some scientific data suggests that dwelling in an environment cooled to or around 60 degrees for 10 days continuously increases the activity of BAT(4).

The hybrid of white and brown adipose tissue is “beige” adipose tissue.  Beige adipose tissue is thought to occur through the browning of white adipose tissue.  This process occurs as a result of the release of special hormones called catecholamines.  Catecholamines are released when the body is stressed or cold(1-3).  Beneficial physical stress such as exercise has been identified as one mechanism to facilitate the browning of white adipose tissue. The more brown fat we accumulate the more calories we burn!

The cool part about fat is that it can also burn energy!  Tweet This!

Location of Fat

Now that you understand the different types of fats, let’s dig deeper into the location of fat and how it affects your health. There are two major locations of fat: underneath the skin and around internal organs.

In order to be healthy, we need a combination of white, brown, and beige fat types. Additionally, your body needs a fair amount of subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that is located underneath your skin.  In fact, a majority of the fat in your body can be characterized as subcutaneous fat.  If you have ever gone to a gym and a personal trainer used a caliper or the “pinch test” to measure your body fat, they were measuring your subcutaneous fat. For you to lower the amount of subcutaneous fat stored in your body, the body has to burn more calories than you consume through the foods that you eat.  This can be accomplished by limiting calories that are taken in by foods and increasing your energy expenditure by exercising and staying active.

Although subcutaneous fat is disliked by many because of how it alters physical appearance, it is not a bad fat.  The fat that does the most damage to your health is visceral fat also known as “belly fat”.  Tweet This! Contrary to popular belief, visceral fat is actually not on the surface but stored around the internal organs in our abdominal cavity including the liver, pancreas and intestines.  Too much visceral fat can interfere with how internal organs’ function and may alter normal hormonal signaling between vital organs.  This interference can lead to a myriad of dysfunctions such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a higher risk of developing heart disease.  High visceral fat accumulations have also been linked to strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and some types of cancer.

This can all sound very scary, but there are some changes you can make to potentially stop and reverse the accumulation of visceral fat. Implementing a healthy lifestyle change that incorporates a healthy diet, exercise and a dietary supplement regimen that fills in nutritional gaps will promote the “burning” of visceral fat and lower the risk for developing heart disease and other physiological dysfunctions.

What healthy lifestyle changes will you incorporate into your daily routine to reduce unwanted subcutaneous and visceral fat?


References

1) Kiefer FW. The Significance of beige and brown fat in humans. Endocrine Connections 2017 Jul:6(5): R70-R79.

2) Hoffmann JM1, Grünberg JR2, Church C3, Elias I4, Palsdottir V5, Jansson JO5, Bosch F4, Hammarstedt A1, Hedjazifar S1, Smith U6. BMP4 Gene Therapy in Mature Mice Reduces BAT Activation but Protects from Obesity by Browning Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue. Cell Reports. 2017 Aug 1;20(5):1038-1049.

3) Song NJ1, Chang SH1, Li DY2, Villanueva CJ3, Park KW1. Induction of thermogenic adipocytes: molecular targets and thermogenic small molecules. Experimental and Molecular Medicine. 2017 Jul 7;49(7):e353..

4) van der Lans AA1, Hoeks J, Brans B, Vijgen GH, Visser MG, Vosselman MJ, Hansen J, Jörgensen JA, Wu J, Mottaghy FM, Schrauwen P, van Marken Lichtenbelt WD. Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2013 Aug;123(8):3395-403.