The number of fat cells in an individual’s body gradually increases over the course of adolescence before leveling out around adulthood. For this reason, it’s no wonder many people feel that the only direction in which fat cells can go is up. This belief, however, only paints part of the picture.

Also known as adipocytes, fat cells are constantly fluctuating. Variations in the size of adipocytes within a person’s body can account for weight loss and weight gain; the cells expand during periods of weight gain while they contract during weight loss. However, just like other cells within the human body, fat cells eventually die off.

What Happens When Fat Cells Die?

According to board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Christopher Newman, once old adipocytes die, new fat cells replace them, as the body maintains a fairly stable number of fat cells in a person’s body, beginning at adulthood. The death and reproduction of fat cells are closely linked. Individuals typically lose about 10 percent of their old fat cells each year, and they are just as quickly replaced with new ones.

One of the best examples of how the number of fat cells in a person’s body remains stable throughout weight gain and weight loss is through studies of individuals who have undergone bariatric surgery. Although these patients experience enormous weight loss, studies have shown that the number of adipocytes remains about the same. Instead, the fat cells themselves shrink as weight is lost.

Can Liposuction Remove Fat Cells?

Liposuction provides an unusual example of decreasing numbers of fat cells since the procedure actually reduces the number of fat cells in the patient’s body, however, weight can still be gained, just in untreated areas of the body. This is why weight management is so important after liposuction, and the procedure is not an alternative to weight loss.

Why Do We Gain Weight?

While it is true that adipocytes are responsible for storing fat, it’s not their only role in the body. Fat cells also secrete hormones and different types of proteins that are tied to metabolism and natural energy levels. This, paired with the body’s ability to increase but not decrease the number of adipocytes in the body, may explain why our bodies fight so hard to regain weight after we have lost it.

One common factor among individuals who struggle with obesity is that, in general, they tend to have more fat cells overall when compared with individuals who are not obese. There have also been studies that indicate weight gain that follows a significant loss of weight is linked with an increase in the number of adipocytes.

In fact, in individuals who experience weight loss, fat cells which have shrunk are typically smaller than those of individuals who have maintained a similar BMI throughout much of their lives. Although more research is necessary to confirm, some within the field hypothesize that the smaller fat cells actually signal the body to increase its fat storage and appetite, making it that much more difficult for people to maintain weight loss.

Want to Know More?

If you’re struggling to lose weight, talk with Dr. Newman about what you can do prior to your liposuction or other body contouring procedure. Understanding how fat works can help you have realistic goals and expectations for your procedure outcome and how you can maintain your results. Contact our office today to schedule your consultation.