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Fat Cells 101

Adipose tissue is what we all regularly refer to as fat cells, the stuff we need to regulate body temperature and the stuff that we all want to keep under control to avoid metabolic conditions such as obesity.

Wikipedia explains it as fat that is located beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat), around internal organs (visceral fat), in bone marrow (yellow bone marrow), intermuscular (Muscular system) and in the breast (breast tissue).

Most of us see it as the stuff we want to minimize to fit in our favorite jeans!

Its primary role in the human body is to store energy in the form of lipids and, as previously mentioned, to cushion and insulate the body. So whether you like it or not, we need adipose tissue!

Both too much and too little adipose tissue can have serious health effects. Too much adipose tissue leads to obesity, mainly from too much visceral fat (fat that wraps around your abdominal organs deep inside your body). Obesity can lead to many serious health problems. It increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as it causes the body to become resistant to insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels, 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 can also cause similar problems. This condition is called Lipodystrophy and it can be seen in people taking medication and living with HIV/AIDS as well as individuals with eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, where not enough food is eaten to maintain adipose levels. It can be a hereditary condition or can show up in childhood. Although the child eats a surplus of calories, they show a complete lack of body fat and appear to be ‘cut’ with visible abdominal muscles that those passionate about fitness strive for.

You probably didn’t know that we have two types of adipose tissue: white adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT). Both types of adipose tissue are made of loose connective tissue. The main difference between brown fat and white fat is that brown adipose tissue is a less common type of fat in the body that is thermogenic. In contrast, white adipose tissue is the most abundant and non-thermogenic.

There is currently promising research showing that increasing BAT may be a medical treatment for individuals with obesity. Other research without as much evidence but may be something to look at is how non-obese individuals can increase BAT to lose body fat. Some of this research centers around the following:

· Colder temperatures appear to increase BAT, so keeping your thermometer lower may help. Some research suggests spending at least 2 hours in 66 degree temperatures may increase BAT. In addition taking cold showers and ice baths may have similar effects.

· Other research shows that certain spices may increase BAT, including capsaicin and its analog capsinoids, representative agonists of TRPV1, mimic the effects of cold to decrease body fatness through the activation and recruitment of BAT.(1)

· Exercising, in particular, is vital for boosting BAT levels in the body. When quantities of BAT are evenly spread throughout your body, it becomes simpler to lose weight through thermogenesis.

So there you have it, eating spicy food in a cold room while exercising should do it! Ok, so maybe not – but this is promising science that may help those with medical conditions AND those who desire a certain aesthetic have a little more of that desirable BAT.


1. Saito M. Capsaicin and Related Food Ingredients Reducing Body Fat Through the Activation of TRP and Brown Fat Thermogenesis [Internet]. 1st ed. Vol. 76, Advances in Food and Nutrition Research. Elsevier Inc.; 2015. 1–28 p. Available from:

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