‘Extra fatty’ fat cells might reveal underlying health concerns

Written by By Rael Satti, CNN

Fat tissue isn’t what it seems. It’s not just fat people make, but fat tissue that might look like fat — and even fat cells — that contain different types of fat.

While fat tissue — or adipocytes — is denser and more closely packed than muscle tissue, the compression also keeps the blood vessels coming up from the outside and reduces blood flow inside the fat cell, presenting a lot more barrier space.

This makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to gain entry, suggesting that in some cases, fat cell membranes aren’t as thick as originally thought.

“Fat tissue is thought to be extra thick because it’s able to retain pressure to act as a shock absorber during exercise and cardiac contractsions,” explained Karin Reichelt, a co-author of the study and associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of California, San Diego.

“But that skin layer keeps being squeezed, in contrast to the exteriors that go away after exercise,” she said. “This is very different to the skin on bone — the soft layer of fat tissue actually shows less surface area than bone.”

Dense fat from the stomach also has some “extra properties” and has been shown to be more resistant to heat stress than other body tissues. Because it’s stronger, it may also withstand invasive infections that other tissues cannot.

Fat is not good for you

“A high percentage of factors that decrease the fat level of the body are actually connected to functional deficiency in fat cells,” said Hannes von Schoenbohm, a co-author of the study and professor of human genetics at the University of Aachen in Germany.

“Therefore, more and more people are eating more and developing diabetes and hypertension because the problem of fatness cannot be solved by regulation of food intake.”

“The fat tissue ought to be allocated to various functions, not a place for storing fat,” he said.

Cancer also seems to be caused by the same principle, he added.

“Obesity is itself a complete form of cancer, with obesity promoting the growth of breast, liver, colon, prostate and several other tumors. For example, obese individuals have increased risks of cancer in every form.”

Fat and other complex body components are also more likely to respond positively to drugs like benzodiazepines. But when you get fat around joints, you risk significant stress from both inflammation and impaired nerves, making you more susceptible to knee and hip injuries.

Particularly toxic substances can also be found in fats, making them especially attractive targets for terrorist use. As researchers believe more about the digestive process in plants, it is also possible that we could improve muscle metabolism in places where fats are the predominant part of the diet.

“From a food science perspective, the most important results are the discovery of lipid impurities in fat tissues and the indications for therapeutic applications in various non-food products,” said Klaus Banke, professor of nutrition and food science at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany.

“It has so far been difficult to find exactly what each fat type is, and our data today is finally opening up new possibilities for the further study.”

The findings have also been surprising to some in academia because the membrane and other tissues have always been thought to be a source of epithelial cells, which contain only DNA, and no fat.

“Whereas the membrane is widely thought to be made up of some epithelial cells, mainly modified epithelial cells [known as] oligodendrocytes that are largely made up of heterodendrocytes, I suspect that the membrane is more complex than previously thought,” said French researcher Lucas Heldt, co-author of the study.

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