Why does starvation make bones fat?

Am J Hum Biol. Sep-Oct 2011;23(5):577-85. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.21202. Epub 2011 Jul 25.


Body fat, or adipose tissue, is a crucial energetic buffer against starvation in humans and other mammals, and reserves of white adipose tissue (WAT) rise and fall in parallel with food intake. Much less is known about the function of bone marrow adipose tissue (BMAT), which are fat cells found in bone marrow. BMAT mass actually increases during starvation, even as other fat depots are being mobilized for energy. This review considers several possible reasons for this poorly understood phenomenon. Is BMAT a passive filler that occupies spaces left by dying bone cells, a pathological consequence of suppressed bone formation, or potentially an adaptation for surviving starvation? These possibilities are evaluated in terms of the effects of starvation on the body, particularly the skeleton, and the mechanisms involved in storing and metabolizing BMAT during negative energy balance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adipogenesis
  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry*
  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Osteogenesis
  • Osteoporosis / physiopathology
  • Starvation / metabolism*
  • Starvation / physiopathology