Adipose (fat) cells are specialised for the storage of energy in the form of triglycerides, but research in the last few decades has shown that fat cells also play a critical role in sensing and responding to changes in systemic energy balance. You have two primary types of fat cells that we produce and store : brown fat and white fat.
White fat cells secrete important hormone-like molecules such as leptin, adiponectin, and adipsin to influence processes such as food intake, insulin sensitivity, and insulin secretion. Brown fat, on the other hand, dissipates chemical energy in the form of heat, thereby defending against hypothermia, obesity, and diabetes. Let’s look at these two types of fat cells in detail :
- Brown fat cells contain mitochondria and are made of a larger number of oily droplets, which are also smaller than those that make up white fat.
- Generates heat and helps regulate the body’s internal temperature in response to the changing environment outside.
- Brown fat seems to act similarly to muscle tissue in many ways, and actually uses white fat for fuel at times.
- Where is it located? Depends on the individual adult (babies have higher percentage of brown fat), but usually in the region in the neck and the shoulder, and perhaps in the chest and down the spine.
- The creation of body heat takes a lot of energy, and this calls upon using the body’s excess fat stores for fuel.
- Regulates temperature without shivering (or non shivering thermogenesis).
- Helps release the hormone norepinephrine when we very cold in order to let us know we are uncomfortable and potentially in danger.
- White fat is the type of fat that most of us try to avoid accumulating, as it accumulates from a surplus of calories.
- White fat cells store energy in the form of a single large, oily droplet.
- White fat has an effect on hormone production and hunger levels, and in healthy, non-overweight humans, it can comprise up to 20% of body weight in men and 25% in women.
- Where is it located? White fat is found below the skin (subcutaneous) and around the organs (visceral fat, which can be especially dangerous).
- White fat does help us to regulate our temperature by insulating organs, but it does little to burn calories like brown fat does.