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Fat is the subject of daily discussion in this country.

We understand it can carry tremendous health risks and could destroy our bodies, but surprisingly, it is essential for our daily function. In this lesson, we’ll explore the answers behind the body tissue adipose – the connective tissue that contains fat – and see how it protects, warms, and fuels our daily lives.

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Definition

Adipose is a loose connective tissue that fills up space between organs and tissues and provides structural and metabolic support. It is part of the nutrient glue that holds us all together. Adipose tissue is often referred to as fat. Although fat is the main component, it is not the only component found in the tissue.

White Adipose
White Adipose

All mammals possess both white and brown adipose. White adipose is the typical fat cell called an adipocyte. The adipocytes contain lipid droplets that fill the middle of the cell and are anchored by collagen fibers. Brown fat cells are smaller in size and quantity and derive their color from the high concentration of mitochondria for energy production and vascularization of the tissue. The lipid in brown fat is burned to provide high levels of energy as heat in animals who hibernate and infants who may need additional thermal protection.

The Importance of Adipose

Picture the typical Thanksgiving Day pickup football game in the Northeast section of the country. Two brothers line up on opposing teams so they can bruise each other like the good old days.Which one will fare better during the battle? Will it be the skinny brother who doesn’t have to carry extra weight around or the brother who has gained a few pounds while away at college? It may seem hard to believe, but the brother with a little more fat content will not be as sore and bruised the next day. Adipose tissue functions as a cushion against trauma for the tissues of the body. Many of the major organs are wrapped in a layer of visceral fat, deep inside, to protect the organs during physical trauma.

Which of our brothers will have better control over his body temperature during our chilly Thanksgiving Day football game? Again, the brother who has a higher fat percentage will be able to maintain his core body temperature without having to put on substantial layers of warm clothing. Adipose tissue functions as a natural thermal insulator.Fat is one of the body’s main sources of energy. Food that is eaten and not burned for fuel immediately is stored as fat in the adipocytes. It can be converted into fuel when the body runs out of immediate energy sources from carbohydrate materials. Converting fat into a usable fuel comes at a high cost, and the body must expend double the energy to convert it to fuel compared to carbohydrates or protein.

Therefore, the brain generally will exhaust all other options of carbohydrates and protein sources first.Fat that is burned for fuel has a long conversion time, meaning the activity must be sustained for a long period of time. And fuel needs a very high oxygen supply to convert it.

Therefore, little fat will be burned during hard exercise over short time periods, like a football game. If the brothers wanted to burn their Thanksgiving fat, they’d be better off going for a long walk rather than a short, intense backyard football game.

Location of Adipose Tissue

Location of Adipose Tissue
Apple vs. Pear
apple vs pear

It is generally noted that the average individual’s fat distribution comes in many different shapes and sizes. Common terms for this distribution are ‘apple,’ in which fat is distributed across the upper torso, or ‘pear,’ which concentrates distribution across the lower portion of the torso. Both distribution patterns carry their own associated health risks.

A number of factors may contribute to body fat distribution. Research now concludes that your genetic makeup is the number one determining factor, with over 50 associated genes being identified with fat deposition. Other factors include diet, exercise patterns, environment, and stress.

Lesson Summary

Adipose is a loose connective tissue that fills up space between organs and tissues and provides structural and metabolic support. It’s often referred to as fat, but while fat is the main component, it is not the only component found in the tissue.

White adipose is the typical fat cell called an adipocyte. There are also brown fat cells that have a lot of mitochondria for energy production and vascularization of the tissue.Adipose tissue is found directly beneath the skin, between muscles, around the kidneys and heart, behind the eyeballs, and abdominal membranes.

Where it pads the organs, it’s called visceral fat, and it protects the body from injury. Adipose tissue also functions as a natural thermal insulator and helps the body regulate its temperature. And fat is one of the body’s main sources of fuel, although fat that is stored and not used right away requires a long, sustained period of activity to burn.We are born with all of the adipocytes we’ll ever have, but excess dietary fat, called triglycerides, can be stored in the adipocytes, causing the cells to change size and shape.

How fat tissue is distributed in the body varies between individuals and is determined primarily by our genetic makeup. Other factors include diet, exercise patterns, environment, and stress.

Learning Outcomes

After studying this lesson, you might discover an ability to:

  • Understand the function of adipose tissue and describe its components
  • Remember the location of adipose tissue within the body, and convey understanding of its significance
  • Highlight factors that affect the distribution patterns of fat cells throughout the body
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