A well-functioning immune system is essential for your overall health and wellbeing. An optimally operational immune system will defend the body against foreign pathogens and disease. It will also not attack the body or cause unnecessary and harmful chronic inflammation (the way it does in the case of autoimmune disease).
Many factors affect how well your immune system operates, and it’s important to make lifestyle choices that are likely to lead to your immune system working well. Let’s talk about how body fat percentage can influence immune function.
What Is Body Fat Percentage?
A person’s body fat percentage is their total mass of fat divided by their total body mass and multiplied by 100. It is the percentage of their entire body that is made of fat. Body fat percentage is seen as a good indicator of a person’s overall health and fitness status. Studies suggest that body fat percentage can have an effect on immune function.
How Is Body Fat Percentage Measured?
The main methods of measuring body fat percentage are:
- Skinfold measurements
- Body fat scales
- Circumference measurements
- Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan
- Air displacement plethysmography
- 3D body scanner
- Hydrodensitometry (underwater weighing)
The Different Types Of Body Fat
Body fat comes in six types. These are:
- Essential fat: Essential fat helps to regulate body temperature, vitamin absorption, cell structure, and hormones, and is essential for optimal health.
- White fat: White fat cells store fat in the form of triglycerides and are the main form of fat cell in the body. White fat is the body’s largest energy reserve, and it provides cushioning for the organs and external body structure. When people are overweight, the majority of their excess weight will be in the form of white fat.
- Brown fat: Brown fat cells burn energy. Brown fat is packed with mitochondria, which burn fatty acids to generate heat and keep the body warm. Brown fat is especially prevalent in babies.
- Beige fat: Beige fat cells function somewhere between white and brown fat cells. They help burn fat rather than store it.
- Subcutaneous fat: Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat directly underneath our skin. Subcutaneous fat is made up of a combination of white, brown, and beige fat, and makes up about 90% of fat in our body.
- Visceral fat: Visceral fat is white fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity around organs such as the heart, liver, and pancreas.
What Does Body Fat Percentage Indicate?
Body fat percentage can indicate whether you are a healthy weight, overweight, or underweight. However, body fat percentage is not a foolproof indicator of general health or of a healthy lifestyle.
Body fat percentage depends on multiple genetic factors that vary between individuals, such as metabolism, activity levels, and musculature. Also, where body fat is stored has a large impact on health outcomes. For example, if you have a healthy body fat percentage but an unhealthy amount of your fat is visceral fat around your waist, you may be at increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
What Is A Healthy Body Fat Percentage?
A healthy body fat percentage for males is generally between 8% and 18%. When men get to age 50 and over, a body fat percentage of between 8% and 22% is considered healthy.
A healthy body fat percentage for females is generally between 14% and 20%. From age 50 and over, a body fat percentage of between 8% and 27% is considered healthy.
Risks Of An Unhealthy Body Fat Percentage
If you have an unhealthy body fat percentage, you increase the risk of various negative health outcomes. These include:
- Heart disease
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Autoimmune diseases
If your body fat percentage is too low, you risk:
- Hormone imbalances
- Loss of reproductive function
- Loss of muscle tissue
- Dry, fragile bones
What Is The Immune System And What Does It Do?
The immune system is the network of organs, tissues, and cells that prevents invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites from taking hold in the body and causing disease. When germs get into the body, the immune system triggers the release of special cells that attack them. So how does body fat affect the immune system?
How Body Fat Percentage Can Influence Immune Function
Studies suggest that excess visceral fat, particularly around the stomach, can trigger the immune system to release proinflammatory immune cells. By circulating in the blood and causing inflammation, these cells can damage the body rather than protect it.
Can Excessive Body Fat Lead To Immune Disorders?
Studies suggest that excessive body fat can lead to immune disorders that cause inflammatory diseases, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
Can Low Body Fat Affect The Immune System?
Studies suggest that lowering body fat can change immune system activity quickly and positively and reverse some of the adverse inflammatory changes seen in obese people with diabetes.
Lowered body fat percentage causes the immune system to reduce the amount of proinflammatory cells circulating in the blood. This reduces chronic inflammation throughout the body and can improve prediabetes and type-2 diabetes.
How To Reduce Body Fat Percentage
You can reduce body fat percentage through:
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting more sleep
- Aerobic exercise
- Weight training