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What is an Adipose Tissue?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Adipose tissue is a type of connective tissue which plays an important role in the functioning of the body. Better known simply as “fat,” this tissue makes up around 15-20% of the body weight of an average person. While many people have negative associations with deposits of adipose tissue on the body, people cannot thrive without it, although unusually high levels of this type of tissue have been linked with health problems.

There are two types of adipose tissue: white and brown. In addition to appearing in different colors, these types have slightly different functions, and different levels of lipids in storage for the body. Both types include adipocytes, cells which are designed for the storage of fat, and the cells can store different types of lipids in varying concentrations, with brown adipose tissue varying considerably in color and lipid composition. Under a microscope, the white and brown cells have slightly different physical structures as well.

One of the primary roles of fat in the body is to provide reserves of stored energy which are used to fuel the body between meals and during periods of fasting. Brown adipose tissue also generates heat, which keeps the body at a stable temperature. In people with insufficient quantities of adipose tissues, it can be difficult to keep the body functioning between meals, and lowered body temperatures are common as the body is unable to keep itself at a stable temperature.

Deposits found immediately below the skin also help to insulate the body, because adipocytes do not conduct heat as readily as other types of cells do. This trait is used by many marine mammals to build up a layer of blubber which keeps the animal warm in cold water. Fat also acts as a shock absorber to protect the body from heavy impacts, and the organs are wrapped in layers of visceral fat which serve the same function.

This type of tissue is also linked with the production of certain hormones. Deposits of this tissue form in different ways on different bodies, with women being prone to deposits on the buttocks, thighs, and breasts, while men tend to accumulate deposits around their stomachs. In women, the percentage of adipose tissue tends to be higher, to prepare the body for the heavy energy demands of pregnancy. Pregnant women also tend to develop additional deposits in the course of the pregnancy to build up reserves for the fetus and for breastfeeding.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon300724 — On Oct 31, 2012

@light0se33: Thanks for the humorous tag at the end of your informative post!

By lighth0se33 — On Jun 25, 2011

@orangey03 - I’ve been considering losing a few pounds, but I wanted to know the function of the fat I would be ridding myself of before I let it go. This article describes what brown adipose tissue does, so I looked into white adipose tissue and its functions.

White adipose tissue has three main purposes: being a source of energy, being a mechanical cushion, and providing heat insulation. Though brown adipose generates heat, white adipose maintains that heat. The degree to which a person will retain warmth depends on how thick their white adipose layer is.

White adipose surrounds the internal organs. It protects them from jarring.

So, I decided to diet only in the summer. I hate being cold, and I need my white adipose during the winter.

By orangey03 — On Jun 23, 2011

What are some of the functions of white adipose tissue?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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