Adipose Tissue: Definition and Examples

adipose tissue
Colored scan of adipose tisse. STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/ Science Photo Library/ Getty Images

Adipose tissue is connective tissue where energy is stored primarily as triglycerides. Adipose tissue helps to cushion and insulate the body. The tissue is made up of adipocytes and can be found under the skin (subcutaneous adipose tissue) or around the organs (visceral adipose tissue).

Pronunciation: add-ih-POSE

Also known as: fat tissue, body fat, fatty tissue

Examples of adipose tissue: visceral, subcutaneous

Alternate spellings: adiposity

Usage: "In the human body, adipose tissue is found beneath the skin and surrounding internal organs."

Adipose Tissue Definition and Function

The fat that you carry on your body has a scientific name. It's called adipose tissue. And even though many dieters would like to reduce the amount of adipose tissue that they carry, adipose tissue is important for a healthy body.  For example, fatty tissue provides:

  • insulation. Adipose tissue helps to insulate your body. This heat insulation keeps your body warm when you are exposed to cold temperatures.
  • protection. Adipose tissue cushions and protects your organs, bones and other tissues from damage.
  • energy storage. Your body stores unused energy (calories) in adipose tissue. When you are fasting, dieting or unable to eat your body your body releases the stored energy to maintain all of it's important functions. 
  • hormone production. Several important hormones, including leptin, are produced and released by your adipose tissue. Leptin is a hormone that sends signals to stop eating. Leptin is an important hormone for dieters.

    Different Types of Adipose Tissue

    You have different types of adipose tissue on your body. Each kind of adipose tissue works differently.

    • White adipose tissue. When you talk about the fat on your hips, thighs, belly or buttocks you are generally describing white adipose tissue. White adipose tissue (WAT) provides your body with energy, insulation and protection.
    • Brown adipose tissue. A small amount of fat on your body is brown adipose tissue (BAT). Brown fat has thermogenic properties. That's a scientific way of saying that brown fat burns fat to produce heat. Researchers are studying ways to use brown fat for weight loss.
    • Beige adipose tissue. Researchers who study brown fat sometimes refer to "beige fat."  Beige fat cells are essentially brown fat cells that reside within white fat tissue.  Beige fat may also hold promise in the fight against obesity.

    It is important to have enough adipose tissue on your body to stay healthy. But too much fat—or adipose tissue—causes obesity and puts you at risk for several different medical conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

    Monitoring Adipose Tissue

    So how do you make sure you have enough fatty tissue to stay healthy but not enough to put your health at risk? There are different ways to measure fat on your body. Some methods can be performed in the privacy of your own home, some are often performed at a gym or health club, and some require a clinical setting like a hospital or laboratory.

    Some of the more popular methods include:

    • DeXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) is performed in a medical setting by a skilled clinician
    • Hydrostatic weighing is performed in a lab where your body is submerged under water
    • BIA (bioelectrical impedence analysis) is a feature offered on many home scales that provide weight, body fat percent and other numbers.
    • Skin calipers are used to pinch adipose tissue on certain areas of your body. Based on the numbers, a skilled practitioner can estimate the amount of fatty tissue on your frame.

    Once you know how much lean mass and adipose or fatty tissue you carry, you can take steps to lose or maintain your weight for improved health and wellness.

    Sources:

    Cypess AM, Kahn CR. "The role and importance of brown adipose tissue in energy homeostasis. " Current Opinion in Pediatrics  August 2010.

    Genetics Home Reference. Adipose Tissue. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed: December 10, 2015. http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/glossary=adiposetissue

    Medical Subject Heading. Adipose Tissue. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed: December 10, 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/68000273

    Medical Subject Heading. Adipose Tissue, White. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed: December 10, 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/68052436

    Medical Subject Heading. Adipose Tissue, Brown. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed: December 10, 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/68002001

    Trayhurn P1, Beattie JH. "Physiological role of adipose tissue: white adipose tissue as an endocrine and secretory organ. " The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society  August 2001.

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