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New Study Suggests Cause, Treatment for Cellulite


A research team in Brazil has developed a hypothesis about the cause of and treatment approach for cellulite. The researchers found that in some individuals with cellulite, they were able to completely eliminate the condition through a new technique of lymph drainage.

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and ducts that transport fluid throughout the body and moves toxins away from healthy cells. Lymphatic drainage therapy is a type of massage that helps move the fluid through the lymphatic system by breaking up blockages and promoting a healthy flow.

If you’re a woman, you probably know about cellulite. About 90 percent of women experience this unsightly condition in their lifetime. Cellulite is much more common in women than in men because fat is typically distributed in women in the common sites for cellulite: the hips, buttocks, and thighs. Although being overweight can make cellulite more noticeable, the bumps and orange-peel appearance affects thin women as well. Cellulite tends to worsen with age, as the skin loses its elasticity over time.

Effective treatment of cellulite has remained elusive. Weight loss and strengthening the muscles in the buttocks, thighs, and legs can improve the appearance of cellulite-affected skin, but the condition does not go away completely. Procedures such as lasers and radiofrequency can help: lasers affect collagen in the upper skin layer and can improve wrinkles and skin texture while radiofrequency can penetrate deeper into the body and tighten the underlying tissue structure. Results typically last up to six months. Liposuction is not effective and may even make cellulite appear worse.

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The Brazilian team found that during their use of lymph drainage to treat people who had lymphedema (a condition in which fluid accumulates and tissues swell as a result of a compromised lymphatic system) that cellulite improved. They then began to use the technique in patients with cellulite and through a series of trial and error were able to determine which individuals would respond best to the lymph drainage approach.

Eventually the researchers discovered that it was possible to reduce cellulite entirely in some individuals. The results can last for at least eight years if patients are not overweight or experience edema.

Regarding the cause of cellulite, the investigators determined that the process begins with an accumulation of fluids in the cell interstice (spaces between cells). The progression to obvious cellulite continues as the concentration of substances in this space increases and there is interference in the exchange of particles between the cell and the interstice. They also noted that there is an alteration of the lymphatic system that causes the accumulation of substances in the cell interstice.

Because cellulite affects women to such a great degree, experts have long suspected that hormones have a role. The researchers noted that female hormones can affect the contraction and tone of the lymphatic vessels, which in turn stimulate the accumulation of some particles in the cell interstice.

The researchers emphasize that for successful treatment of cellulite, it is necessary to choose patients carefully, to diagnose cellulite correctly, and to use the right techniques to treat it. In patients who have edema, obesity, and cellulite, the edema should be treated first or treatment of cellulite will not be successful. Clinicians should also have a physiological understanding of cellulite to determine the correct treatment.

De Godoy JMP and de Godoy FG. Open Cardiovascular Medicine Journal 2009 August 31. DOI: 10.2174/1874192400903010096
Mayo Clinic