Fat is your friend!
Historically, fat (also known as adipose), has been seen as the enemy of good health. Labeled as generally bad for your body, we have been told the body stores toxins in the fatty tissue and we also blame fat for being the cause for many diseases. To be sure, it remains true that a diet rich in trans-unsaturated fat is dangerous and being overweight can promote heart disease. However, what only a few people know though is that in regenerative medicine, (fat) adipose tissue is regarded as a valuable, dynamic, and important tissue with powerful potential therapeutic activity. Let’s look at 3 reasons why fat may actually be your friend.
- Fat is a rich source of stem cells
Similar to its sister tissue, bone marrow, fat is now accepted as a rich source of stem and regenerative cells. Since the early 2000s, doctors have been taking out a small amount of fat from a person’s body (lipoaspiration) and isolating the potentially healing stem and regenerative cells. During this processing and washing of fat, all toxins are removed. Since the number of cells obtained is greater compared to bone marrow and easy to take in a non-surgical setting, one can quickly determine why fat is increasing in popularity.
- Fat has the potential to rebuild cartilage
Many physicians have been working to harness the power of these stem and regenerative cells for conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. Why? Well, because fat is a connective tissue and related developmentally to tissues like bone and cartilage, orthopedists and others have been tapping into the healing and restorative aspects of these cells in an effort to treat common conditions like osteoarthritis and back pain. In a recent article, Akpancar (August 2016–https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28144608) and co-workers reviewed the existing body of published literature to find examples of where regenerative approaches were successfully used to treat a variety of clinical conditions including bone-joint injuries as well as cartilage defects. The authors also point out the attractiveness of fat derived approaches given the minimally invasive nature of lipoaspiration.
- Immune and inflammation modulating properties
As one may recall, degenerative orthopedic conditions are often caused by chronic inflammation. This is important because cells derived from lipoaspirate have been shown to reduce and modulate inflammation. This assertion is supported by a number of recent preclinical studies by investigators (e.g., Plock-January 2017–https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27893612 and Chien-November 2016–https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27391839) highlighting the immune modulating actions of these cells. Aside from the direct potential orthopedic benefits using fat and fat-derived stem cells, many doctors also tout a systemic or body-wide benefit seen from the administration of these cells. These include but are not limited to addressing autoimmune conditions, wounds, and providing a beneficial general reduction in the level of inflammation.
In this story of fat vs. fiction, it is important to note that the above list is not a license to eat without caution–maintaining a balanced diet led by moderation and keeping a healthy body mass index (and accompanying body fat percentage) remains sound advice in the long-term goal of avoiding surgery. In sum, the potential for fat and fat-derived therapeutics is very promising so the next time you go for that piece of cake or cookie, it may not only end up on your thighs, but also in your knee!