Updated 16 August 2019

The lowdown on cellulite

Cellulite occurs in those parts of the body where we store fat. When these fat depots increase in size, the appearance of the skin changes and becomes dimpled and unattractive.

You may be skinny; you may be toned. But if you're a woman, you are likely to be dealing with the uncomfortable fact that as you head out of your 20s, orange-peel skin becomes harder and harder to keep in check.

Cellulite seems to be a fact of life, yet little reference to the term can be found in medical text books and journals.

But let's not let that stop us from considering what factors cause 'cellulite' and how we can combat it:

Factors that cause cellulite

Cellulite seems to occur in those parts of the body where we store fat. When these fat depots increase in size, the appearance of the skin changes and becomes dimpled and unattractive.

Gender plays an important role in determining where you will deposit fat. Women have a tendency to deposit fat on the hips, thighs, buttocks, upper arms and breasts. Men, on the other hand are more inclined to lay down fat on the back of the neck and the stomach (the well-known beer boep!).

To avoid cellulite it is, therefore, essential not to gain weight in the first place. If you're basically healthy and do not suffer from any hormone imbalances, and your energy intake exceeds your energy expenditure, then you'll gain weight and the excess fat will be deposited in those fat depots. Once the fat depots start to enlarge, the skin covering these areas becomes puckered and cellulite appears.

Diet and lifestyle

Considering that cellulite is not regarded as 'real' by most of the experts who should be doing something about the matter, it's not surprising that we know very little about how cellulite can be combated effectively.

As a preventive measure, it's essential to avoid weight gain and fat deposition by following a balanced diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, bioflavonoids and dietary fibre, and low in fat.

Doing regular exercise to ensure that you burn up excess energy also helps. Exercise increases blood flow to all areas of the body and can stimulate metabolism so that the fat in the depots is mobilised.

Anti-cellulite products

This is another unknown and uncharted territory. There are hundreds of products on the market that promise to reduce cellulite. Some of these come in the form of anti-cellulite pills and drops.

I suspect most of them contain laxatives and/or diuretics. Such products will not help to mobilise fat and may cause more harm than good.

Other anti-cellulite products are sold in the form of creams that are massaged into the affected areas. Some of these creams and lotions may make a difference because their active ingredients when combined with active, regular massage, will stimulate and increase blood flow to the areas where cellulite occurs.

Novel treatments for cellulite

Lately, there's been much talk about the effectiveness of endermologie in the treatment of cellulite.

The technique involves a machine-assisted massage system that consists of positive-pressure rolling - in other words, pressing onto the skin and the fatty tissue just below the skin – in conjunction with applied negative pressure ("sucking").

Over time, the treatment supposedly smoothes dimples and helps to reduce the circumference of the area being treated. According to the manufacturers of the LPG Endermologie device, the technique is successful in over 80% of patients as an alternative to, and after, liposuction.

Some research studies do indeed show that the technique is mildly effective in reducing the appearance of cellulte.

Recently, Croatian researchers have also hypothesised that the drug sildenafil (Viagra), incorporated into moisturisers, may help treat cellulite. However, research hasn't confirmed whether the proposed topical treatment is really effective. Let's hold thumbs!

(Dr I.V. van Heerden and Carine Visagie, updated 2012)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc


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