"Sick fat," metabolic disease, and atherosclerosis

Am J Med. 2009 Jan;122(1 Suppl):S26-37. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2008.10.015.


Atherosclerotic coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common cause of morbidity and mortality among men and women in developed nations. The obesity epidemic contributes to the increasing prevalence of high blood sugar (as may be found in patients with diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome), high blood pressure, and dyslipidemia--all CHD risk factors. Metabolic syndrome describes the common clinical finding wherein component CHD risk factors cluster within a single patient, but this term does not identify any unified pathophysiologic process. However, a component of the metabolic syndrome is abdominal obesity, which does reflect an anatomic manifestation of a "common-soil" pathophysiologic process that promotes the onset of CHD risk factors, and thus increases CHD risk. Adiposopathy ("sick fat") is anatomically characterized by visceral adiposity and adipocyte hypertrophy; it is manifested physiologically by a net increase in release of free fatty acids and by pathogenic adipose tissue metabolic/immune responses that promote metabolic disease and increase CHD risk. Understanding the relation of adiposopathy to CHD risk factors and recognizing the importance of treating both the "cause and effect" of metabolic diseases are critical toward a comprehensive approach in reducing CHD risk. Regarding the "cause," clinicians and their patients should be diligent regarding appropriate nutritional and lifestyle interventions that may favorably affect health. Regarding the "effect," clinicians and their patients should be equally diligent toward appropriate pharmaceutical interventions that reduce CHD risk factors when nutritional and lifestyle interventions do not sufficiently achieve desired metabolic treatment goals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Fat / metabolism
  • Abdominal Fat / pathology
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / epidemiology
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / metabolism
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / pathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Dyslipidemias / epidemiology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Hypertrophy / pathology
  • Life Style
  • Risk Factors