Its the amount of fat in fat cells that makes you fat not the number, new study reveals
BEIJING, June 2 (Xinhuanet) -- It's not the number of fat cells you have in your body that contribute to obesity, it's how much fat is in the cells, according to recent research.
Researchers have known that people gain and lose weight at least in part by changing how much fat is in their fat cells. The new finding is particularly important for obese people, who the researchers say can have twice as many fat cells as their lean counterparts.
The finding also suggests that obesity in adulthood is at least partly determined by diet and exercise in childhood, and that you acquire your full complement of fat cells by age 20.
To determine the age of fat cells in 35 subjects, researchers focused on a marker found in fat cells — radioactive carbon from above-ground nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and 60s. More of a naturally occurring but rare type of carbon, called carbon-14, was produced during the testing.
Our bodies incorporate carbon-14 from the food we eat, along with the vastly more abundant types called carbon-12 and 13. Since carbon-14 from the testing is decreasing with time as it mixes with the oceans, the amount of rare carbon-14 that a cell has taken up is like a timestamp for when the cell formed, said Bruce Buchholz, a chemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, who took part in the study.
The researchers knew that cells were dying and being replaced over time, because people born before the nuclear testing had fat cells that were created after the testing. The scientists also found about 10 percent of fat cells were replaced every year whether or not a person was obese.
Despite that replacement rate, another aspect of the study with a larger sample of people revealed that the total number of fat cells per person remained relatively constant over time. Even extreme weight-loss strategies, such as bariatric surgery, did not reduce the number of fat cells in study subjects.
The findings, detailed in the May 4 online issue of the journal Nature, suggest that the focus for controlling obesity should be on children, said Dr. Jeffrey Gimble, who studies fat stem cells at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge and was not involved in the research. The idea is that if the number of fat cells is capped by age 20, then the smart approach is to prevent their formation in children.