Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Body of Information

Body of Information: Fat cells may help protect vital organs

You should stop envying that guy who says he can eat as much as he wants without gaining a pound.

He probably carries a gene that prevents him from making fat cells. That may sound like a delightful condition, but without fat cells, the excess calories he eats get deposited in his liver, pancreas, heart and other vital organs.

And calories stored that way promote the dreaded "metabolic syndrome," a constellation of disorders that include insulin resistance, high blood pressure and heart disease.

An estimated 50-million Americans — about one in every six — have metabolic syndrome, but the vast majority are overweight or obese. These people, too, tend to accumulate fat in their liver and other organs, but their ability to store vast amounts of fat in fat cells probably postpones the onset of metabolic syndrome, according to Dr. Roger Unger, professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

However, those rare individuals born with a condition known as lipodystrophy do not have fat cells, and they get no such reprieve. When they overeat, the excess fat goes directly to the vital organs and promotes metabolic syndrome. That, Unger believes, is what happened to Morgan Spurlock, the creator of the film documentary, Super Size Me. "I think he got a fatty liver because he was eating so much so fast that he did not give his fat cells time to expand and multiply," Unger said. "If he had gone slower, his fat cells probably could have accommodated the fat."

Unger recently conducted a study in which he bred mice that did not produce fat cells. On a diet that caused normal mice to gain a lot of weight, the specially bred mice maintained a normal weight, but they developed diabetes and associated health problems. This caused the doctor to conclude that obesity is not as great a threat to health as overeating.

"We're ingrained to think obesity is the cause of all health problems, when in fact it's the spillover of fat into organs other than fat cells that damages the heart, the liver and other organs," Unger said. "Depositing fatty molecules in fat cells — where they belong — actually delays that harmful spillover."

Even people who weigh several hundred pounds often don't have metabolic syndrome, Unger said, because they have enough fat cells to hold most of the excess fat. "Amazingly, even though they have lots of health problems, they don't get severe diabetes," Unger added.

People who lack fat cells are very rare because throughout human evolution, those who couldn't store fat didn't last very long in a famine. Only in the past century have humans been confronted with vast amounts of inexpensive, tasty food. "And 'over-nutrition' is a development for which we're poorly adapted," Unger said.

Freelancer Tom Valeo writes about medical and health issues. Write to him in care of Pulse, St. Petersburg

Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail features@sptimes.com.

Body of Information: Fat cells may help protect vital organs 06/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2008 3:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 10th resident from sweltering Hollywood nursing home dies

    Public Safety

    A 10th person from the Hollywood nursing home that turned into a deadly hothouse after the facility lost power following Hurricane Irma has died, Hollywood police said.

    The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, 1200 N. 35th Ave. [EMILHY MICHOT | Miami Herald]
  2. Feeling mental fatigue after Hurricane Irma and other disasters? It's real.

    Consumer

    TAMPA — Blackness. Eyes closed or open, the same.

    A Tampa Bay Times reporter in a sensory deprivation tank used for floating therapy at Sacred Floats & Gems Co. located at 6719 N Nebraska Avenue, in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. Floating therapy relaxes people because they experience a sense of zero gravity when they are inside the tank, which contains 150 gallons of water and 1000 pounds of medical grade Epsom salt. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  3. Trump vows more sanctions on North Korea

    World

    President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to impose more sanctions on North Korea as he prepared to meet with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea to seek a common strategy in confronting the isolated nuclear-armed state.

    U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 19, 2017. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in New York described as "the sound of a dog barking" Trump's threat to destroy his country. [Associated Press]
  4. Tampa chamber of commerce votes against tax increase on business property

    Retail

    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on Thursday voted against supporting a city of Tampa plan to raise taxes on commercial properties in the city for 2018. The property tax, included in the city's proposed $974 million budget, would boost taxes from $5.73 to $6.33 for every $1,000 in property value.

    The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce voted against supporting a city tax hike on commercial property. Pictured is Bob Rohrlack, CEO of the chamber. | [Times file photo]
  5. How should St. Pete make up for dumping all that sewage? How about a street sweeper?

    Blogs

    Every crisis has a silver lining.

    In the case of St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis, which spawned state and federal investigations and delivered a state consent decree ordering the city to fix a dilapidated sewer system, the upside is figuring out how to satisfy the $810,000 civil penalty levied by the Florida …

    City Council chairwoman Darden Rice said it was important to chose carefully because residents will be paying attention.