Fat has a bad reputation. Many people look to get rid of it and try to reduce levels of it in their diet. However, fat has a critical role to play in our body. This article explores what fat cells are, why we have them and how they work to play an essential role in the body. It also examines if it is possible to get rid of fat cells, and if so, how this can be achieved.
What are fat cells?
Fat cells are scientifically referred to as adipocytes and have developed as specialist cells within the body that make and store fat. As well as being a primary site for energy storage, they are also critical in regulating a number of the body’s internal processes.
There are two types of fat cells or fat (adipose) tissue within the body. Fat cells increase in size as more energy is taken in until they reach a maximum level and may then divide. The white fat cells store and release energy, and the brown fat cells generate body heat.
Why do we have fat?
The human body stores variable amounts of fat, including essential and stored fat. The healthy range for women is 21-36%. Men generally store less body fat, so their healthy range is between 12-25%. The number and size of fat cells in our body increase if excess energy is consumed.
As well as storing fat under the skin, known as subcutaneous fat, excess fat can also be stored on muscles, in the liver and on other organs. The visceral fat stored around the organs is the type that can be harmful and lead to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and sometimes cancer.
Despite this risk, fat cells still have critical functions to play within the body, and we need to have a certain amount to keep us healthy. Fat cells store a lot of energy, which was very useful historically when we were much more physically active, and when food was not so readily available. The fat cells would release this energy into the bloodstream, when required, and use it as fuel; critical for survival in challenging environments.
Fat also acts as a layer of protection that helps to insulate the body and safeguard our internal organs from any harm. These cells are also involved in metabolic processes that keep our body functioning correctly.
How do fat cells work?
Our body’s primary source of energy is carbohydrates, which is either used immediately in the form of glucose or accessed from glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. Once the store of carbohydrate is depleted, our body switches to fat for energy. Training the body to burn fat efficiently as a fuel source can promote weight loss.
It is our white fat cells that take care of a lot of our energy homeostasis, storing the excess energy as triglycerides. When triggered by a lipase enzyme, the fat cells release their fatty acids into the bloodstream for use by other organs. The triglycerides are the fuel source that powers many of our body’s internal processes, as well as our external day-to-day activity.
White fat cells and adipose tissue also play a crucial role in regulating lipid metabolism, secreting important molecules that contain hormones, such as leptin, adiponectin, and adipsin. Hormones act as a signalling system within the body, and these secretions by our fat cells help to determine our food intake, insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion.
Brown fat or adipose tissue is vital for heat regulation. The higher levels of mitochondria in brown fat, compared to white, enables it to release its stored energy as heat and protect the body against hypothermia. This process is critically important for newborns and for those residing in colder climates. Studies have shown that people exposed to a cooler environment develop more brown fat and have corresponding changes in their metabolism.
The role of brown fat is not fully understood. However, its potential has led to increased interest in the research community, who are looking to establish whether its calorie-burning properties could be utilised for weight loss.
Can you get rid of fat cells?
When you diet or exercise and your energy expenditure is more than your calorie intake, your body will begin to breakdown fat for energy, and it is this process that leads to weight loss. As the body metabolises the fat, the energy is expended as heat or used for physical or internal activities.
Fat cells are incredibly easily created when a high-fat diet is consumed. Weight is also gained as these fat cells increase in size. However, unfortunately, the reverse is not so simple. Dieting will shrink fat cells, but they do not die and, therefore, it does not get rid of them. Although the fat cells are smaller in size, the fact that they remain is one reason why individuals can regain weight again quickly after going on a diet.
There are some treatments available that get rid of fat cells permanently. Liposuction is one option, but as an invasive procedure, it can lead to complications, and there is no guarantee that results will be successful.
CoolSculpting®, also referred to as Cryolipolysis®, is an FDA-cleared procedure that removes fat cells permanently. Its process is non-invasive, and with over eight million procedures performed worldwide*, it has become the leader in this form of fat treatment. †
How does CoolSculpting® get rid of fat cells?
CoolSculpting® gets rid of fat cells using a localised freezing procedure. As the fat cells freeze, they are destroyed and then removed by the body's natural processes. CoolSculpting® is useful for targeting stubborn areas of fat, and studies have shown that this fat-freezing process results in significant targeted fat reduction.
What can I expect during a CoolSculpting® treatment?
One of the frequently asked questions by patients exploring the CoolSculpting® procedure is what to expect on the day of the treatment.
The procedure is non-invasive and uses no needles or anaesthetics. This means that, other than mild swelling or redness, most patients are able to get back to their day-to-day life with minimal interruption.
Prior to the treatment day, you will meet with a CoolSculpting® specialist for an initial consultation. This medical professional will go through everything to expect during the process, explore if the CoolSculpting® procedure is right for you and, if so, design a customised treatment plan.
On the day of your treatment, an applicator will be placed on the area of fat targeted. A vacuum will then be used to gently pull the tissue into the device and begin to freeze the fat cells by exposing them to very cold temperatures. During the treatment, you may feel a mild tugging sensation as the targeted area is pulled into the device. While the fat cells are freezing, you are likely to experience a localised intensely cold feeling before the area numbs.
What results can be achieved from a CoolSculpting® procedure?
Depending on the size and number of areas targeted, you may require more than one CoolSculpting® treatment. Results from the procedure are likely to show within two to six months. CoolSculpting® gets rid of fat cells permanently, so by following a healthy lifestyle post-treatment, the results can be maintained. You can view the results of previous patients in our before and after gallery. *
To find out if CoolSculpting® is right for you and can help you get rid of stubborn areas of fat, please contact one of our local clinics across the UK to book a consultation.
†Based on HCP tracking market research in the US, UK, Germany, Canada, Brazil, China and Australia (n=526), and global market research of the overall body shaping and skin tightening market
* Patients may require more than one treatment to reach desired outcome.