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Vital Signs

Spring 2004

Fat Cells Play Active Role in Overall Wellness

Excess fat, once thought to be nothing more than useless storage, actually plays an active role in overall wellness.

“Fat cells are not as passive as physicians once thought,” explains Zhaoping Li, M.D., director of clinical research at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. “It has been widely accepted that fat tissue doesn’t merely store fat but, rather, is an endocrine organ that secretes hormones to regulate appetite, insulin sensitivity and body weight.”

In other words, hormones from fat tissue communicate with the brain, pancreas and other organs. These hormones also help maintain proper insulin levels and influence the body’s response to insulins. However, when a person is overweight or obese, the fat cells produce hormones that communicate improperly with vital organs. This, according to Dr. Li, can lead to increased appetite, body weight, and insulin resistance (diabetes).

According to the American Obesity Association, nearly one-third of adult Americans and over 15 percent of children and adolescents are considered obese. Obesity stands as a leading cause of Type 2 diabetes, and recent studies link obesity with a significant risk for ovarian, prostate and breast cancer.

The UCLA Clinical Nutrition Clinic helps overweight and obese people adhere to diet, exercise, and behavior modification programs under the supervision of a physician. “Any diet will work in the short run. The key to longterm success is changing one’s lifestyle and learning to eat properly,” says Dr. Li.

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