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Fat Cells Boost Immune System

Fat cells usually take the rap for a number of health problems, but a Purdue University study says they may help the body defend itself against such diseases as diabetes and cancer.

Researcher and animal sciences professor Michael Spurlock says that fat cells (adipocytes), rather than contributing to disease, normally function as part of the immune system and help control lipid accumulation. In that way, they provide a health benefit.

"Adipocytes can be functional and beneficial without creating obesity. The key is that we want plenty of adipocytes to meet whatever immunological and endocrinological needs they fulfill, but we don't want them to overaccumulate lipid," Spurlock says.

In this study, published in the January issue of the American Journal of Physiology, Spurlock and his colleagues found pig fat cells respond to infections by producing hormone-like proteins that regulate certain components of the body's immune response.

"This is additional evidence that fat cells behave in many ways as immune cells. It also is the first evidence that adipocyte cells respond directly to bacterial toxins like classical immune cells," Spurlock says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about the health risks of being overweight.


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