The Surprising Role Of Belly Fat In Your Immune System

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Many people have too much belly fat. In excess, it certainly is unattractive and it is also linked to numerous health problems. But not all fat is bad, and it turns out that belly fat may actually assist with a physiological function that few people would never have suspected: warding off disease.


The Odd Connection Between Belly Fat and the Immune System

The proper medical term for the sheet of fat on the front of your torso is the omentum. Whether you are rail thin or very overweight, everyone still has one. It is just a normal, natural feature in human physiology. The omentum is, as you might expect, primarily composed of fat cells. But there are also quite a few clusters of immune cells throughout the omentum and they play a role more important than most people realize.

Scientists have known about the omentum and the immune cells they contain for a long time. Interestingly, these clumps of immune cells were first observed in the dissected omentum of a rabbit in the 19th century. They were referred to as “milky spots” since they appeared as white blots contrasting with the yellowish color of the fat cells. The white color of these spots is of course due to the fact that they are composed of white blood cells as immune cells are more commonly known.

The scientists observed how these blotches of white blood cells would filter fluids through them. It was later discovered why: these concentrations of immune cells were actually gathering up antigens, germs, bacteria, and other cells and analyzing them. These immune cells helped the body decide whether or not they represented a threat, and if an immune response should be launched against them.

Thus, it was that medical science began to understand the link between belly fat and the immune functions of the body. This led a surgeon in the United Kingdom to describe the omentum as the “policeman of the abdomen”, according to a review published in Trends in Immunology in June, 2017. The omentum was also observed to play a role in reducing inflammation, and in helping the body heal from incisions made during surgery.

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Woman Showing Fat Belly

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The One Downside of the Omentum…

While the omentum is undoubtedly a beneficial physiological feature, it does appear to have one flaw with regard to cancer cells. The omentum is actually a common place for ovarian and gastrointestinal cancer to spread, and this is because these cells can actually use the omentum’s immunological features against it.

As mentioned above, the “milky spots” of white blood cells trap fluids to analyze them. This includes abdominal fluid, which can become contaminated with cancer cells from other regions in the body. These cells are transported inside the omentum, and instead of attacking them, the omentum misinterprets what they are and protects them instead. Once these cells are trapped inside the omentum, they can multiply and tumors can form.

Scientists are currently studying the omentum to better understand why it reacts to cancer cells the way that it does, so that they help better treat cancer cases which develop in this way.


How much belly fat is too much?

Now, some people may be thinking, “If belly fat helps fight disease, then more must be better, right?”

Nice try. Some belly fat is always going to be there. It is just a natural way that cellulite is allocated in the human body. And while the “milky spots” of the omentum do play a beneficial role in your immune system, it is still a fact that excess belly fat is very unhealthy. One should never trick themselves into thinking that the immune cells found in belly fat somehow negate the health risks caused by excess fat.

Large amounts of belly fat are linked to higher blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and more. The best defense against putting on too much body fat is to eat healthy, and reduce your sugar intake. Avoid living a sedentary lifestyle and aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity a day. Even something like taking a walk every day is enough to put you worlds ahead of someone who is completely sedentary in their day to day life.


READ ALSO: Does Music Boost Your Immune System?


Being healthy is a choice. Choose not to let your belly fat get out of hand. Don’t worry, your omentum will never completely go away. It will always be there to help your immune system do its job.