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Technique determines fat cell number remains constant
(May 20, 2008) – The radioactive carbon-14 produced by above-ground nuclear testing in the 1950s and '60s has helped researchers determine that the number of fat cells in a human's body, whether lean or obese, is established during the teenage years. Changes in fat mass in adulthood can be attributed mainly to changes in fat cell volume, not an increase in the actual number of fat cells.
These results could help researchers develop new pharmaceuticals to battle obesity as well as the accompanying diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
High blood pressure and diabetes are leading causes of cardiovascular disease and Robin Petry, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator with University Hospital’s Diabetes Services, noted that heart disease and stroke account for about 65 percent of deaths in people with diabetes and adults with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to die of heart disease than those without diabetes.
The new study applied carbon dating to DNA to discover that the number of fat cells stays constant in adulthood in lean and obese individuals, even after marked weight loss, indicating that the number of fat cells is set during childhood and adolescence.