Do fat cells have "eternal life"? No, that's not true: While a post making that claim is a joke, we found the question interesting so we reached out to a few experts anyway and an Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) committee member told us that fat cells die just like any other type of cell. The director of the Michigan Nutrition Obesity Research Center also told Lead Stories that this claim is false.
The claim appeared in a video posted on Facebook on April 27, 2022. The 15-second video opened with two people and on-screen text saying:
brain cells unlive
skin cells unalive
heck even hair cells unalive
but the fat cells seem to have accepted
Jesus Christ as their lord and savior
for now they have eternal life 😤
FIX IT 😅
This is what the post looked like on Facebook on May 6, 2022:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri May 6 16:51:26 2022 UTC)
Although the video is clearly a joke about the difficulty of losing weight, Lead Stories looked into the claim. In a May 6, 2022, email to Lead Stories, Randy Seeley, who is professor of surgery at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, addressed the claim implied in this post:
Bottom line here is that fat cells do turn over. What is true is that weight gain is primarily associated with increased size of adipocytes and not an increased number of these cells. The conclusion that this means fat cells have an 'eternal life' is false.
Angela K. Golden, a fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners who also serves as an OMA committee member, cited various pieces of literature from the National Library of Medicine in a May 6, 2022, email to Lead Stories. She said of fat tissue growth in humans:
As with all cells, adipocyte cells die. They are replaced by new cells derived primarily from the bone marrow. The amount of fat cells is stable throughout the adult life. The literature varies as to how long the cells live, but the range is 8 to 10 years, about 10% of adipose cells are dying each year and being replaced. This is in normal physiology, not with the chronic disease of obesity.
Adipose cells in the setting of the chronic disease of obesity become larger as they store more lipids (hypertrophy) and when they become too large there is an increase in the number of adipocytes (hyperplasia or adipogenesis) showing that adipose cells can grow in size and numbers.