Brazilian researchers have found that within months of abdominal liposuction, there may be an increase in the visceral fat around abdominal organs.
But the good news, they say, is that regular exercise may prevent that deep fat from forming.
Fat is not "inert tissue," said study leader Dr Fabiana Benatti, of the University of Sao Paulo in email to Reuters Health. "Removing it by surgery may have important consequences such as the compensatory growth of visceral fat, which may be deleterious in the long term."
Visceral fat is particularly undesirable because it's more closely connected to the risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The current study, according to Dr Benatti's team, appears to be the first to give "compelling evidence" that visceral fat builds up after liposuction – at least, if patients don't exercise.
How the study was done
The findings are based on 36 normal-weight women who had liposuction to take away a small amount of superficial tummy fat. All had been sedentary before the procedure.
The researchers randomly assigned half of the women to start an exercise programme two months after their liposuction. Those women worked out three times a week, walking on a treadmill and doing light strength training, while the rest stuck with their usual lifestyle.
Four months later, the study found, women who'd remained sedentary still had flatter tummies, but were showing an average 10% increase in visceral fat.
In contrast, women who'd been exercising showed no such gain, the researchers reported online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Liposuction a skin damage risk
It's not really clear why visceral fat increases post-liposuction, according to Dr Benatti. "But we believe it may be because this particular fat depot is more metabolically active than the other fat depots," she said.
Another reason, Dr Benatti said, may be because liposuction destroys the "architecture" of fat cells just below the skin, so fat regain may be redirected to still-intact visceral fat cells.
In the US, about 204,700 people underwent liposuction in 2011, according to the ASPS. That was down 42% from a decade before.
The known shorter-term risks of liposuction include blood clots, skin or nerve damage, and loose skin where the fat was removed. But little is known about whether liposuction is related to any longer-term health problems, Dr Benatti's team notes.
(Amy Norton, Reuters Health, May 2012)
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