One of the most frequent complaints that I hear from my female patients concerns that cottage cheese-like, lumpy, bumpy fat that loves to collect on their thighs, upper arms and stomach area. It causes them to become very self-conscious, and even depressed to put on a pair of shorts or a bathing suit in public. Their most pressing question is how can they make it disappear?

As I tell these ladies, although it can be cosmetically distressing, cellulite is really nothing to worry about from a health standpoint. It is not a condition requiring medical attention, and not to be confused with another similar sounding, much more serious, disorder called cellulitis. Let me explain what cellulite is and some ways you can prevent it and diminish it.

What Is Cellulite?

Cellulite is an uneven collection of fat cells just beneath the skin. It can be mild and only really noticeable when you pinch the skin, or it can be quite severe with big lumps of fat that stretch the skin over it giving it a hanging, lumpy appearance. It affects women much more often than men because of the way women store fat. It can become more prominent as women age because of a decrease in skin elasticity.

Cellulite is thought to be caused by the displacement by fat of the fibrous collagen structures just beneath the skin that attaches skin to muscle. As fat stores increase, it becomes harder for the fibrous structures to contain it correctly and it starts pouching out up against the skin which causes cellulite’s distinctive appearance. It’s also thought that inadequate lymph drainage contributes to the formation of cellulite.

Treating Cellulite

Here are some ways you can prevent cellulite from forming, or worsening:

•Control your weight. This is one of the most important factors. Although cellulite can be present on normal weight people, it dramatically worsens when fat stores increase.

Exercise. Regular aerobic and resistance training exercise keeps your skin and muscles in better tone and more able to contain fat deposits and resist forming cellulite pockets.

•Hydration. Drinking enough water everyday will keep your skin well-hydrated and elastic and better able to neatly contain fat deposits beneath it.

Nutrition. A low saturated fat diet, high in fiber, will help prevent cellulite from forming. Also, be sure to get enough collagen building Vitamins C and adequate protein to build collagen/fibrous structures which hold fat in place. A low sugar intake (limit to 20 grams a day, read labels) will help to decrease fat stores and prevent skin breakdown.

•Moderate alcohol consumption. People who drink alcohol heavily seem to have more cellulite than others perhaps because heavy alcohol usage tends to lessen skin elasticity.

•Collagen Supplements. Many people, as they get older, lose collagen structure in their skin.
Vitamin C, and resveratrol, powerhouse antioxidants, can help rebuild collagen as can liquid collagen supplements which can be found in vitamin outlets.

•Don’t Smoke. The toxins in cigarette ingredients and smoke contribute to cellulite.

•Tight clothing. Tight elastic around waistlines, hips, thighs, are thought to contribute to poor circulation which can cause cellulite to form.

Some Available Treatments

Here are some fairly new modes of cellulite treatment that may also work for you:

Lasers and Radiofrequency: The use of heat, infrared light and massage to decrease cellulite deposits. These seem to greatly reduce the appearance of cellulite and treatments can last up to 6 months.

Far Infrared Sauna and Belts: Far infrared saunas melt fat deposits by heating up your core body heat thereby raising metabolism. They are more comfortable to do than regular steam heat saunas. They can burn up to 350-500 calories per 20 minute session. There are also far infrared heat body belts available (about $200) that can be used on thighs, upper arms and abdomen to help spot reduce cellulite.

Laser Assisted Liposuction: A surgical treatment available through a plastic surgeon where a tube is placed beneath the skin and suctions out the fat deposits. At the same time, the laser action tightens the skin for a more pleasing cosmetic result.

Herbal Body Wraps: Several of my patients have reported good success with reducing cellulite deposits using herbal body wraps. It is a process done in a spa where astringent-type herb soaked bandages are wrapped around your body and left for 30-60 minutes. The herbs cleanse toxins from the skin, tighten skin, and cause inch-loss all over.

Rebounding: You’ve seen mini-rebounding trampolines? Jumping and bouncing movement of rebounding cleanses and drains the lymphatic systems thereby helping to clear cellulite as well. There are also rebounding shoes that you strap on your feet that get the same lymphatic/cellulite drainage effects. Women who practice rebounding on a regular basis have reported a greatly diminished appearance to ridding of their cellulite.

Shorts and swimsuit season is only a few months away. Start now to incorporate the nutritional and exercise advice offered here, perhaps try some rebounding, and a body wrap and see how they work for you. Or if you like to look into the medical-based cellulite treatments, consult a plastic surgeon about laser-assisted liposuction and/or laser radiofrequency treatments.

Jay Brachfeld, M.D.

Author's Bio: 

•BS Chemistry Massachusetts Institute of Technology
•MD State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine
•Dermatology Residency: Baylor College of Medicine
•Board Certified in Dermatology
•Member American Academy of Dermatology