Learn your Cellulite ABCs!

Learn your Cellulite ABCs!

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It may be 20 degrees in New York City, but in the cozy cubicles that line the offices of the leading women’s magazines, the focus is on sun, fun and the pursuit of a beach-ready body.

Typically, the beauty editors I work with are putting together their issues three to four months ahead of publication. So, sometimes I have to forget about the frost on my windows and focus on my assignment which, this month, is: cellulite. There are, in fact, a few interesting new theories out there about the development of the lumpy, bumpy problem we call cellulite. And, unlike doing 20 abdominal crunchs, it never hurts to review the factors that play a role in the "battle of the bulge."

Caffiene has been shown to extend the secretion of cortisol, the “stress hormone” (see below) implicated in the accumulation of abdominal fat. Caffeine, and the other physiological changes that it triggers, have also been linked to the disruption of sleep patterns which, in turn, cause even more cortisol to be released. Caffeine stresses the adrenal glands, which can, in turn, adversely affect the thyroid, too (see below). From an overall nutritional standpoint, caffiene is not exactly a woman’s friend either. It is a serious diuretic that can leave us dehydrated and strip calcium, magnesium and sodium from our bodies — the very minerals women need for the lifelong conservation of bone tissue.


Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen cycles, which start with the onset of puberty, mark the beginning of the appearance of cellulite. Their fluctuation seem to play a role in the extent to which cellulite develops. High levels of estrogen, whether brought about by internal factors or the use of medications containing estrogen, can decrease lypolysis (the breakdown of lipids) and even stimulate lipogenesis (the storage of lipids). Estrogen also encourages capillary permeability, which impedes microcirculation and causes water retention, worsening the appearance of existing cellulite. Finally, xenoestrogens, or substances that mimic estrogen in the body, can be found in numerous food sources and packaging materials, and have recently been linked to the development of cellulite in pre-teens.

Lack of Exercise
The truth is that you can do “donkey kicks” for an hour every day and still see a dimpled texture on your hips and thighs. That is because, while targeted exercise will firm the muscle that lies beneath the body’s fat layer, you will still have that visible fat layer on top. Think of an old lumpy mattress with a nice, firm, new box springs underneath. But, cellulite has been shown to respond to exercise such as cardio, which increases the flow of lymphatic fluid and boosts the body’s metabolic rate so that you can begin to burn stored fat. It is worth noting, however, that there is an indirect benefit from other types of exercise, such as weight-bearing exercise. The development of lean muscle mass will keep your metabolic rate elevated because muscle tissue burns more calories for energy. Finally, almost all types of exercise boost endorphin production to some degree, which may help to avoid stress-related eating.


Lymphatic Deficiency
A study conducted at Brussels University in Belgium found that women with cellulite showed marked lymphatic system deficiencies. The lymphatic system serves as the transit route for the disposal of waste. Like our circulatory system, the lymph system has pathways throughout the body, but whereas the heart regulates movement of blood through the veins, lymph is directly dependant on muscular contraction to facilatate movement of the waste that it carries. When regular movement does not take place, it is thought that the accumulation is deposited in the most stagnant areas of the body, such as adipose tissue. To combat this, regular exercise that incorporates movement of the entire body, such as brisk walking while swinging the arms, or jumping on a small trampoline, is recommended.


Under Consumption of Water and Protein
In her book, Fat Flush Plan, Ann Louise Gittleman makes a seemingly paradoxical point – if you don’t drink enough water, it can actually cause your body to retain it. When your water intake is low, the body will systematically retain or hoard water for its most critical functions. Moderate dehydration slows the lymphatic system, which Gittleman claims is directly responsible for the development of cellulite. Proteins, on the other hand, are critical because they circulate in your blood, controlling water levels between and within the cells. When your body is deficient in protein, fluid leaks through the vascular walls into the intra-cellular spaces resulting in visible water retention and, again, worsening the appearance of cellulite.

Lack of Sleep
Researchers from the University of Chicago and Stanford University have completed two studies that show lack of sleep causes changes in hormones that result in increased appetite and weight gain. Scientists were amazed to find that hormone levels can be affected after as few as two nights of poor sleep, triggering alterations in the brain's chemistry that increase appetite. Both studies found that sleep-deprived participants had lower levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger. Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, who headed the Stanford study, summed it up this way: "What it should tell people is that those who are considering losing weight should think of healthy sleeping habits in the same sentence as healthy eating habits and good exercise habits."


Insufficient Intake of Fiber
All types of fiber have a fat-binding or absorbing quality to some degree, (as do certain types of seaweed, when taken internally) without inhibiting the absorption of critical nutrients. So, increasing your fiber intake is a must for any fat-busting nutritional plan, because a high-fiber diet decreases the quantity of fat available for storage in the body. Optimal fiber intake also reduces recirculation of estrogen by binding to this hormone when it is in excess and carrying it out of the body. This, incidentally, is why you should never take your birth control pills at the same time as a fiber supplement. Without adequate fiber, it is estimated that 90 perecent of cholesterol will be returned back to the liver, and an overworked liver does a poor job of metabolizing fat. Increasing your intake of fiber will also slows down the digestion process, thus staving off hunger if you are dieting.

Thyroid Deficiencies
The thyroid controls the rate of function of every cell and gland of the body so it’s no surprise that a sluggish thyroid can lead to a host of undesirable symptoms including: fatigue, weight gain, depression, constipation and high cholesterol. Studies estimate that mild to moderate thyroid deficiencies occur in 4 to 21 percent of women with the risk increasing significantly after age 34. In many of these cases, the thyroid disorder is itself a symptom of something else. Adrenal stress, brought on by numerous triggers such as high caffeine consumption, can impair thyroid function. Cortisol (see below) can also block the efficient conversion and use of the thyroid hormones. Excess of estrogen combined with low progesterone — the "estrogen dominance" typical of early perimenopause — has also been implicated as a major factor. Finally, poor nutrition is a likely origin of many thyroid problems, because a healthy thyroid is dependent on a range of nutrients, especially selenium, folic acid and iodine.

Elevated Levels of Cortisol
The so-called "stress hormone," cortisol, is released in the body during times of stress along with other hormones associated with the “fight or flight” response. But, while other hormone levels quickly return to normal, cortisol levels can remain elevated over a longer time period. In fact, they can remain persistently elevated in the body when a person is subjected to chronic stress. Numerous studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area. Whether or not your stress levels will result in high cortisol levels and weight gain is not readily predictable. The amount of cortisol secreted in response to stress can vary among individuals, with some persons being innately more "reactive" to stressful events. But it may be worth noting that studies have indicated that women who tended to react to stress with high levels of cortisol secretion also tended to eat more when under stress than women who secreted less cortisol. (Editor's note: Read Paula's story from last week about how cortisol is linked to facial blemishes.)


If you’ve made it to the end of this list, you may have noticed that almost every cause listed above is in some way interrelated with the others. Cellulite, like most other conditions in the human body, is clearly not the result of any one issue, but a manifestation of many complex and overlapping physiological factors. By understanding and addressing the key factors that contribute to its development, we can not only diminish its appearance, but we can also make strides toward improving our overall health.

Photo: iStock Photography