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Adiposopathy and bariatric surgery: is ‘sick fat’ a surgical disease?

International Journal of Clinical Practice
Wiley Blackwell (Blackwell Publishing)
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2009.02151.x
  • Consensus
  • Medicine


Objective: To review how bariatric surgery in obese patients may effectively treat adiposopathy (pathogenic adipose tissue or ‘sick fat’), and to provide clinicians a rationale as to why bariatric surgery is a potential treatment option for overweight patients with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidaemia. Methods: A group of clinicians, researchers, and surgeons, all with a background in treating obesity and the adverse metabolic consequences of excessive body fat, reviewed the medical literature regarding the improvement in metabolic disease with bariatric surgery. Results: Bariatric surgery improves metabolic disease through multiple, likely interrelated mechanisms including: (i) initial acute fasting and diminished caloric intake inherent with many gastrointestinal surgical procedures; (ii) favourable alterations in gastrointestinal endocrine and immune responses, especially with bariatric surgeries that reroute nutrient gastrointestinal delivery such as gastric bypass procedures; and (iii) a decrease in adipose tissue mass. Regarding adipose tissue mass, during positive caloric balance, impaired adipogenesis (resulting in limitations in adipocyte number or size) and visceral adiposity are anatomic manifestations of pathogenic adipose tissue (adiposopathy). This may cause adverse adipose tissue endocrine and immune responses that lead to metabolic disease. A decrease in adipocyte size and decrease in visceral adiposity, as often occurs with bariatric surgery, may effectively improve adiposopathy, and thus effectively treat metabolic disease. It is the relationship between bariatric surgery and its effects upon pathogenic adipose tissue that is the focus of this discussion. Conclusions: In selective obese patients with metabolic disease who are refractory to medical management, adiposopathy is a surgical disease.

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