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Fat Cells Set By Adolescence Study Shows

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, May 05, 2008 10:14 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Heart Attack, Cancer, Fast Food, Obesity, Overweight

This study shows that even after extreme weight loss the number of fat cells stays the same.



WikiMedia Commons/ fat adolescent/ author: Robert Lawton 


Scientists in Sweden at the Karolinska Institute say that fat cell numbers are set at adolescence and stay the same all of your life.

Fat cells are actually known as adipocyte. As we swell with fat, the cells are getting fatter too in size. But scientists were unclear whether the number of cells multiplied as people got fatter.

In the journal Nature, researchers tested the obese after they shed the pounds, in some cases through extreme means such as gastric banding, a procedure that literally bands off the stomach reducing its size.

These patients lost weight but retained the same number of fat cells indicating an uphill climb for dieters says Dr. Kirsty Spalding, a biologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

"It explains why it's so difficult to lose weight and to keep it off - those fat cells aren't going anywhere, and they're crying out for more," she said.

Fat cells are known to regenerate at a rate of about 10 percent each year.  By eight years, half of fat cells are replaced with new cells.

In the study, Spaulding found young obese people added twice the fat cells each year as others. 

That means that obese adults begin building up fat cells faster and about two years earlier than thin people.

But a critic of the study, Professor Stephen O’Rahilly of Cambridge University says that fat cells may emerge if the conditions are right and not until then. He told ABC News, "I think it is premature to conclude that, by the time we are adolescents, the 'game is up' in terms of the number of fat cells we can possess."

This research may one day be useful for cancer patients who need to keep up their body mass during treatment if fat cells can be encouraged to grow so they can gain weight.

As more adolescents and adults are trending toward obese, researchers are increasingly making that a focus of research.  Last year, University of Texas researchers found large waist measurements, relative to hip size, were linked to early signs of heart disease. 

As if the obesity epidemic was not cause enough for concern, a British study finds the more overweight you are, the greater your chance of developing cancer.

Spalding says the bottom line is to start in childhood to monitor for signs of obesity.

"The take-home message is be careful what you feed your child," Spalding says. "Do everything you can to make sure you don't blow out your fat cell number when you are young." #

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