Are Fat Cells Forever?

A recent Q and A article in The New York Times titled “Are Fat Cells Forever?” had a lot of people asking even more questions about fat cells.

Most basically, should we be concerned, as the article suggests, about the number of fat cells we’re carrying around?

Are Fat Cells Forever? Size Vs Quantity

Get answers to common questions about fat cells, such as: Are we stuck with them forever? Does it matter? What about liposuction? Can you have a lot of fat cells and still shed body weight? (You'll like the answer to the last question.)

Are Fat Cells Forever?

Can we ever get rid of them?

Probably not, at least until old age. But we should not focus on the amount of fat cells we have, states Jay Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN, nutrition researcher and educator at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida.

Far more critical than our number of fat cells is their size. Shrinking fat cells through a healthy lifestyle like the Pritikin Program has both health and weight-loss benefits.

Size Vs Quantity

Far more critical than our number of fat cells is their size. Shrinking fat cells through a healthy whole-foods diet and regular exercise, as the Pritikin Program recommends, means we’re less likely to develop insulin resistance.

That’s important because insulin resistance is a big problem. Normally, insulin acts as a “door” that allows blood sugar to enter cells. But if you have insulin resistance, the doors are shut. Sugar can’t enter, so it builds up in the blood, leading to chronically high blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes.

Reversing Insulin Resistance

“With a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin, not only can you prevent insulin resistance, you can largely reverse it and the other metabolic abnormalities associated with it, such as hypertension and bad cholesterol levels. It’s a win-win because you’re staving off diabetes as well as the killers closely linked with diabetes – heart attacks and strokes.

Healthy Pritikin-style living also reverses the accumulation of fat in the liver, muscles, and other tissues,” points out Dr. Kenney.

Reducing Medications

“There’s more good news. Removing excess fat with a healthy lifestyle can reduce or even eliminate the need for many medications, particularly pills for diabetes and other cardiovascular concerns like high blood pressure.”

But even if you have type 2 diabetes, “it is never too late to address insulin resistance and try to mitigate or eliminate it,” points out Dr. Tom Rifai, MD, FACP, Regional Medical Director of Metabolic Health & Weight Management at Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, and member of the Pritikin Scientific Advisory Board.

Liposuction and Reducing the Number of Fat Cells

Quick fixes for removing fat cells, like liposuction, don’t last, says research. Typically, any pounds shed are regained within just one year.

“If you still require oral medications, or even insulin, it will typically be a lot less. It will likely be a much simpler drug regimen. And quality of life will certainly improve, and possibly quantity as well.”

Liposuction

It is also important to recognize that quick fixes for removing fat cells, like liposuction, have limited success, at best.

Yes, after decades of chowing down cheeseburgers, we may have accumulated more fat cells than we’d care to imagine (for some, it’s billions of fat cells). “But reducing our number of fat cells through procedures like liposuction are not likely to slim us down for the long term. Nor will they necessarily promote good metabolic health,” says Dr. Rifai.

Ultimately, what’s most critical for unhealthy fat cells is a healthy lifestyle – a simple, day-to-day commitment to eating well and staying physically active.

Healthy Attitude

“I also strongly encourage a healthy attitude about our bodies,” adds Dr. Rifai.

“We’ve got to be realistic. How many of us at age 50 or older can shed enough weight to squeeze back into our wedding dresses or tuxedos? For most of us, it’s just not going to happen, but that’s okay. We may never be at our high school weight again, but we can achieve a leaner, much healthier body.

“We can look in the mirror and realize, wow, we’re looking pretty darn good for our age. Most importantly, we’re feeling good. That’s what healthy food and fitness delivers, and it’s priceless.”

New Fat Cells

Finally, keep in mind that typically the places in our bodies where new fat cells pop up are the hips and thighs. For our overall health, that’s preferable because fat cells in the hips and thighs are not as likely to promote insulin resistance as fat cells in the belly area. “For the belly, our primary goal is shrinking the fat cells that are there,” instructs Dr. Rifai.

Summing Up | Are Fat Cells Forever?

Fat cells are tough to eliminate, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to plus-plus sizes and poor health. Far from it. If we’re physically active and follow a healthy diet like Pritikin, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, we can look good and live well regardless of what our fat cell count is.

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