Reducing cellulite

Cellulite is a condition, found predominantly in women, where areas of adipose tissue (fat) become hard and lumpy and very difficult to remove.

In women fat is found mainly on the outer thighs, hips and buttocks, abdomen, midriff and back of the arms. In men it is usually distributed around the waist. It is more common and more widely distributed in the female because of the greater amount of oestrogen produced. This hormone encourages the laying down of fat.

The areas of cellulite look dimpled or lumpy, and feel hard and cold to touch. Pushing the flesh between the hands makes the skin very uneven and puckered, similar to the surface of orange peel.

Cellulite is more commonly found in overweight individuals, but is also found in slim people and those of ideal weight. In the slim it is present in specific areas, usually the outer thighs, giving the characteristic 'jodhpur' shape. Cellulite is difficult to reduce and remove, even when the individual is on a reducing diet and exercising regularly. Research indicates that there is no physiological difference between cellulite and the more easily removed fat, but there are differences in the supporting connective tissue and in the organisation and circulation of the subcutaneous tissues in cellulitic areas.

The body stores fat for use as fuel when required. The digestive system breaks down the food we eat to provide energy for bodily functions. If the energy input is greater than the energy output (i.e. if we eat more food than is required for energy), then the excess fuel is stored in the body as fat.

Fat is stored in specialised cells called adipocytes. These form clusters supported by connective tissue, which group together to form adipose tissue. This is found under the skin in the subcutaneous layer, and among muscle fibres around organs such as the kidneys and heart. Complex chemical reactions convert the food eaten into fat for storage, and again from storage to use as fuel for energy. Although fat will be used from areas all over the body when required, it appears to be more difficult to remove from certain areas. These areas of hard, difficult-to-remove fat are called cellulite.

In cellulitic areas there is some alteration of the subcutaneous tissue. The adipocytes become overloaded and develop a tough outer membrane. The supporting connective tissue increases, enmeshing groups of adipocytes together in a lobular structure. This gives the dimpled, uneven appearance of the area.

Nucleus

Fat droplet

Fibre

Nucleus

Fat droplet

Fibre

Cell wall

Fat-storage cell

Figure 8.3 Storage of fat in adipocytes.

Cell wall

Fat-storage cell

Figure 8.3 Storage of fat in adipocytes.

The overloaded cells and lobules compress the capillary networks and lymphatics. This interferes with the circulation to the area. Stagnation and deficient circulation adversely affect the area: the tissues do not receive the required nutrients and oxygen; waste products (toxins) accumulate in the area as they are not quickly removed; and the temperature of the area will be lowered as warm blood is not circulating normally (hence it feels cold to touch). Fat remains in the overloaded adipocytes as it is not easily removed by the poorly circulating blood for conversion to energy, and the area becomes hard and stagnated. If action is not taken, the condition will become progressively worse, with greater engorgement of the area, degeneration of connective tissue and hardening of the fatty tissue.

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