Coronavirus Chronicles — The Many Faces of Fat

Yesterday’s post ended with a quotation from Dr. David Kass, who succinctly states that if a person is very obese, fat is their body’s single biggest organ. Wait, it’s what? An organ? Do we mean that fat is not just an inert mass of goop? Exactly. Fat has agency; it does things. Fat might even be said to have an agenda — one in direct opposition to the plans of the brain and other body parts. For instance, fat apparently is willing to provide a haven where coronavirus can safely conceal itself. But what has it been doing previously, all these years?

That answer depends on what kind of fat is being discussed, and the condition of the body it resides in. A Healthline article breaks down the particulars. White fat stores energy, and also tells estrogen, leptin, insulin, cortisol, and growth hormone how to perform. Some of it is absolutely necessary, but too much of it can do a lot of damage in the ways we hear so many warnings about — type 2 diabetes, hypertension, disease of coronary arteries, kidneys, liver, and more.

Brown fat is found mainly in babies, and burns fatty acids to keep them warm. If weight-control scientists could find a way to increase this in adults, they would be happy. Beige (or brite) fat seems to also have that beneficial effect. Essential fat is found in places like the brain and the membranes that protect organs, and women need more of it than men do. It…

[…] plays a major role in hormone regulation, including the hormones that control fertility, vitamin absorption, and temperature regulation.

Subcutaneous fat, the kind that mainly shows, is under the skin. A properly trained person, taking caliper measurements in certain locations, can form a pretty accurate assessment of a body’s total fat percentage.

Visceral (or belly) fat is the worst, and the hardest to get rid of. Entombing its heart, liver, and other internal organs in globs of visceral fat is a terrible thing to do to the body, just an open invitation to every co-morbidity out there. Visceral fat is the body saying “I want to die, come and get me.” If its previous reputation is any indication, visceral fat would be delighted to offer sanctuary to random virus organisms. For Gizmodo, Ed Cara wrote:

[E]vidence from the lab and in patients has suggested that the virus can travel throughout the body and infect other tissues, too, thanks to the receptors it uses to hijack cells. Recently, for instance, scientists found evidence that the coronavirus can readily infect fat and immune cells.

National Institutes of Health researchers “performed complete autopsies on 44 people who had been infected with the coronavirus.” In 39 of those cases, the virus was why they died. In all but five cases, the infection was directly implicated in the person’s death. Evidence of the virus was found throughout the bodies of all the subjects — even if the person had mild symptoms or none. It was found “in the muscle, skin, adipose (fat), and peripheral nervous tissue of 68% of patients.”

The problem that many researchers are concerned with is, how are people still suffering from a disease that gives every sign of being over? “Some experts believe that at least some cases of long covid can be attributed to persistent infection.” Is the body itself still reacting against the memory of a foreign invader? Or is the invader still on the scene, hiding perhaps in fat cells?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Types of Body Fat: Benefits, Dangers, and More,”, 05/24/19
Source: “The Coronavirus Can Persist for Months in Brain, Heart, and Intestines, Major Study Finds,”, 12/28/21
Image by Mike Finn/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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