Body fat, also known as adipose tissue, is a connective tissue primarily composed of adipocytes (fat cells) and extends throughout your body. It’s found under your skin, between your internal organs, and even in the inner cavities of bones. Body fat plays several vital roles in the body, including energy storage and release, insulation, and cushioning of organs. Besides its benefits, excess accumulation of body fat can lead to obesity, which is associated with a range of health risks, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Maintaining a healthy body weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise is important for overall health and well-being.
What is Body Fat?
Body fat, or adipose tissue, is a connective tissue that extends throughout the body to store lipids (fats) and provide insulation and cushioning to the organs. It is found under your skin, between the internal organs (visceral fat), and inside the inner cavities of the body (bone marrow).
It is an active organ in your endocrine system. Body fat contains nerve cells and blood vessels and communicates through hormone signals with other organs throughout the body. It has several important functions in controlling overall health. But body fat can malfunction if you have too much or too little of it.
Excess accumulation of body fat can lead to obesity, which is associated with a range of health risks, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Maintaining a healthy body weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise is essential for overall health and well-being.
There are two main types of body fat: white adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT).
WAT is the more abundant of the two (found in subcutaneous, visceral, and bone marrow fat) and is primarily responsible for energy storage.
Conversely, BAT is involved in energy expenditure and thermogenesis, or the generation of heat in the body. Brown adipose tissue in humans is mainly found during infancy and decreases with age. It’s located primarily in your upper back.
Common Types of Body Fat
"Fat" is a broad term used to describe all body fat. In fact, it is categorized into several types depending on its location: the belly, thigh, or near your organs.
Some types of fat can impact your health negatively and contribute to disease. At the same time, others are beneficial and necessary for your health. There are several different types of adipocytes, each with unique characteristics and functions.
Overall, the different types of adipocytes have evolved to perform specific bodily functions, and their diversity helps ensure proper energy balance and metabolic regulation. Discussed below are a few different types of body fat:
The body fat beneath the skin is called subcutaneous fat or subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT).
Subcutaneous fat impacts bodily functions in a variety of ways depending on where it is located. Subcutaneous belly fat makes more fatty acids, which can increase insulin resistance and the risk of metabolic disease. Subcutaneous fat in the lower body, on the other hand, takes up and stores fat efficiently, and it fortifies against disease.
Subcutaneous fat is soft, and many options exist for treating this type of fat. Lifestyle modification works for some people. Liposuction is also an option for the removal of excess subcutaneous fat.
Visceral fat is the fat stored deep in the belly and makes a lining around internal organs, such as the liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines, and heart. Visceral fat accumulation is associated with an increased metabolic risk and overall mortality. It’s also linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, and dementia.
It significantly impacts the liver—an organ critical to metabolism. Blood that leaves visceral fat goes directly to the liver and brings anything the fat tissue makes, including fatty acids, hormones, and pro-inflammatory chemicals. We build up more visceral fat with age—fat storage shifts from the lower body to the belly, especially in women.
Intramuscular fat is the visible fat located within the muscles and is also known as "marbling." It is found more in individuals who are overweight or obese.
High levels of Intermuscular fat (Intramuscular adipose tissue - IMAT) are associated with certain conditions in older adults, such as stroke, spinal cord injury, diabetes, loss of strength, and mobility dysfunction. Intramuscular fat is also implicated in metabolic dysfunction, such as insulin resistance.
Furthermore, older adults with increased Intramuscular fat levels in the locomotor muscles (the skeletal muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, and other connective tissue) are known to experience increased levels of muscle weakness, decreased mobility function and an increased risk of future mobility limitation.
What Causes Body Fat
Knowing the cause of body fat is the key to managing it and finding its solution. Several factors, including genetics, diet, lifestyle, and hormonal imbalances, can cause the accumulation of body fat. Consuming more calories than the body needs can lead to excess body fat, as can a sedentary lifestyle. Hormonal imbalances, such as those associated with thyroid disorders or menopause, can also contribute to the accumulation of body fat.
Read on to know exactly what causes body fat:
Overeating and a diet high in calories
Overeating and consuming a diet high in calories is one of the leading causes of body fat or adipose tissue accumulation. When an individual consumes more calories than their body needs, the excess energy is stored as fat. If this pattern of overeating continues, the body will accumulate fat, leading to weight gain and potential health problems associated with excess body fat.
A sedentary lifestyle, or lack of physical activity, is a common cause of body fat or adipose tissue accumulation. When an individual is not physically active, they are not burning as many calories as they could, and excess calories are stored as fat. Over time, this can lead to weight gain and potential health problems associated with excess body fat.
Genetics can also play a vital role in accumulating body fat. Some individuals may have a greater tendency to store fat than others, even if they consume a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Genetic variations can affect how the body metabolizes and stores fat, leading to differences in body composition and fat distribution.
Hormonal imbalances can also contribute to body fat accumulation. Hormones such as insulin, estrogen, and testosterone play a vital role in regulating metabolism, and their imbalance can affect how the body processes and stores fat. For example, insulin resistance, which is often associated with obesity, can lead to the accumulation of visceral fat, which is particularly harmful to health. Similarly, estrogen and testosterone imbalances can affect body fat distribution and lead to excess fat storage in certain areas, such as the abdomen.
Procedures That Remedy Body Fat
Adipose tissue functions best in healthy amounts. In general, prevention is the key to staying healthy and minimizing the risks associated with body fat. Just try to eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. However, certain medical procedures may help you reduce fat deposits inside the body:
LiposuctionFind doctors who offer Liposuction
Liposuction is one of the most popular body contouring procedures that use negative pressure to suction out excess body fat. Due to its promising and life-long results and proven safety record, liposuction is the most sought-after procedure. The procedure may be performed on various body areas, including the abdomen, thighs, hips, arms, and neck.
CoolSculptingFind doctors who offer CoolSculpting
CoolSculpting, or cryolipolysis, is a non-invasive cosmetic treatment that uses cold temperatures to freeze and destroy fat cells in specific body areas. The procedure involves placing a special device on the skin that delivers controlled cooling to the targeted body area, such as the abdomen, thighs, or love handles. The cold temperature causes the fat cells to freeze and die, and the body then naturally eliminates the dead cells over time.
Contrary to liposuction (fat loss surgery), bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery) is a medical procedure designed to help individuals with obesity or severe obesity lose body fat by modifying the digestive system. Bariatric surgery works by restricting the amount of food the stomach can hold and altering how food is digested, leading to weight loss.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much body fat is healthy?
The healthy body fat percentages are based on your age. For example, for people aged 20 to 39, body fat should be 21% to 32% of their entire BMI. Men should have 8% to 19%. For people aged 40 to 59 years, women should fall between 23% to 33%, and men should fall around 11% to 21%. If you're between 60 and 79, women should have 24% to 35% body fat, and men should have 13% to 24%.
Naturally, the body fat percentage for men is slightly lower than for women. Women's body fat also naturally increases as they age.
Can you spot-reduce body fat?
Spot-reducing body fat is reducing fat in specific areas through targeted exercise or diet. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception, and it is not possible to spot-reduce body fat in a specific area. When the body loses weight, it loses fat proportionally from all body areas.
Therefore, if you want to reduce body fat in a specific area, such as the abdomen or thighs, you will need to undergo cosmetic surgical and non-surgical procedures that are tailored to remove fats from specific areas of the body, such as bariatric surgery, liposuction, tummy tuck, arm lift, body lift, thigh lift, CoolSculpting, laser fat removal, and mesotherapy.
How can I reduce my body fat percentage?
To reduce body fat, you must lose weight overall through regular exercise and a healthy diet. Exercising can help tone and strengthen the muscles but will not necessarily reduce body fat. Consistency and patience are essential when trying to lose body fat, as it can take time to see significant changes in body composition. It is essential to consult with a qualified healthcare provider to determine a safe and effective plan for your individual needs.
What are the health risks associated with excess body fat?
High body fat is associated with numerous health risks, severely affecting overall health and well-being. Excessive fat accumulation in the body can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and certain cancers. It can also lead to joint problems, sleep apnea, and psychological problems such as depression and low self-esteem. Moreover, carrying excess weight can strain the body's organs, leading to reduced mobility, decreased energy levels, and a compromised immune system. Therefore, it is vital to maintain a healthy body weight and reduce excess fat to lower the risk of developing these health issues.