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Adipose Tissue: Function, Location & Definition

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 1:02 The Importance of Adipose
  • 3:04 Location of Adipose Tissue
  • 4:35 Adipose Distribution
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lori Holloway
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.

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
integumentary system

Adipose tissue is found directly beneath the skin, between muscles, around the kidneys and heart, behind the eyeballs, and abdominal membranes. It serves as a layer of protection, absorbing shock potentially sustained by the tissue. Infants and young children will have a continuous layer of adipose tissue for protection while learning to be mobile that will thin as they grow into adolescence. The layer gives their body that round, plump appearance. This layer will also insulate the body, keeping the core body temperature at a regulated 98.6° Fahrenheit. This allows the body to maintain homeostatic balance.

An infant is born with all the adipocytes, or fat cells, that they will ever have. So why do we use the expressions of gaining and losing fat if all the cells we will ever have are present at birth? As nutrition is taken into the body, the excess dietary fat, called triglycerides, are stored inside the adipocytes. Over time, if the body does not use the material for fuel, it will be stored in the cell on a long-term basis. The more storage, the larger the cell becomes. No new cells are created, nor old ones destroyed. They simply just change size and shape. Carbohydrates and proteins can also be converted into storage forms if they are not used immediately, contributing to the growth of the cell. The only way to reduce the size of the cell is to burn the fat as fuel.

Adipose Distribution

Apple vs. Pear
apple vs pear

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