While a research scientist at the National Institutes of Health, I became known as the “fat doctor,” a title I held with great pride. My work entailed tag-teaming with surgeons in the operating room and harvesting human fat cells during surgery. Bless every one of the wonderful research subjects who agreed–rather happily, I might add!–to let me remove a small sample of fat from various parts of their bodies, both deep inside (deep in the belly) and just under the skin (subcutaneous). Next, these gleaming gelatinous globs of fat were carefully placed in the portable liquid nitrogen cylinder that accompanied me everywhere. Then it was off to my lab to prep the specimens for our experiments.

Hunched over my lab bench, I would marvel at the beauty, power, and mystery of the fat cells, or adipocytes (adip=fat, cyte=cell), I beheld under my specialized microscopes. It also occurred to me that most people probably don’t have a clue as to what fat cells do other than inspire torment and angst when they’re trying to crowbar themselves into a pair of jeans.

So how about a quick primer on all things fat, so that you can, as I have, learn to appreciate, not disparage, these incredible and integral parts of our anatomy? I’m only talking about fat as a physical entity and won’t be speaking to any issues related to why people are under- or overweight. This is just an anatomy lesson!

So here’s a brief summary of fat facts, starting with the two types we have.

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