Body fat is a lovely lipid. We rely on our body fat for thermoregulation, cushioning and “filler” in the body between organs, and energy storage. Women are energy storage experts. The female body is very efficient at fat storage to sustain us and our babies through motherhood. Pregnancy and breast feeding require a massive amount of energy and calories. When food and nutrition are scarce, our fat storage efficiency is very handy. Today, most of us have plenty of access to food, and we are sometimes less than pleased with our fat stores, especially when it comes to cellulite. Cellulite is part of our expert fat storage capacity.
Thanks in large part to “beauty magazines,” there is a lot of clamor, confusion, and concern about cellulite: what it is, why it’s there, and what you can do about it.
Cellulite’s Etiology: The Invented Disease
Cellulite, the term, was first used in the US in 1966 in the April edition of Vogue magazine. It made its way into pop-culture vocabulary in 1973 with the publication of Cellulite: Those Lumps, Bumps, & Bulges You Couldn’t Lose Before by Nicole Ronsard.
Statistics tell us that more than 80% of women have cellulite somewhere on the body. It tends to form around the knees, thighs, and backside because there are three layers of fat in these areas, as well as in the stomach and triceps. Other body areas have just one layer of fat.
Most doctors consider it a normal condition of being a woman and assure us that no one has ever died of cellulite nor died from complications of cellulite. They assure us that our cellulite concern is aesthetic. From my research, I also believe this to be true. Perhaps, though, the presence of cellulite may give us hints at how we can improve our general health.
A myriad of components contribute to the formation of cellulite
- circulation insufficiencies
- immobility or sedentary lifestyle
- nutritional deficits
- increased body fat
- estrogen dominance
- collagen and connective tissue breakdown
Poor circulation (blood and lymphatic flow) creates the right environment for cellulite formation. Loss of circulation to an area –caused by lack of exercise, too much sitting, clogged arteries, or nutrient deficiency – can have a serious impact on our health and accelerate cellulite formation. That is why cellulite generally appears in areas that have poor circulation, like the back of the legs, which is not a highly vascularized area.
Some of the rippling appearance of cellulite is fluid retention in adipose (fat) tissue. There is evidence in cellulite studies of excess fluid in connective tissue fibers that cause visible swelling of thighs, hips and abdomen, which makes cellulite tissue more obvious.
Some women inherit a genetic predisposition to cellulite formation from genetically determined hormone levels, fat storage, distribution and deposition of fat, and the structure and durability of the skin. Also, there are approximately 34 genes associated with collagen, and it is a major factor in the appearance of the skin.
Collagen and Connective Tissues
Underneath the skin is a layer of fibrous connective tissue that adheres the skin to the muscle beneath it. Below the connective tissue is the first of three layers of fat in women. (Men have 1 layer of fat.) Connective tissue is comprised mainly of collagen, water, and elastic fibers. It lends skin structural support and stability and is responsible for skin’s strength and elasticity.
Collagen is a group of naturally occurring proteins and the main component of connective tissue. It makes up about 25% to 35% of the protein content of the whole body.
The structure of connective tissue in women is arched, like an upside down U. Fat cells inside the U protrude outward toward the skin. In men, connective tissue forms more like ^ or x shape so when their fat cells increase in size they grow laterally or down into the body instead of pushing outward toward the skin.
Boosting collagen production may seem to be an easy fix for cellulite, though it is tricky business; it means affecting and influencing the way and the speed in which the body produces one specific protein.
Cortisol is the stress hormone.
Under stressful conditions, cortisol helps stay focused and maintain the energy we need to manage the situation. Ideally, cortisol levels drop afterwards. Chronically high levels of cortisol due to chronic and unmanaged stress set off a cascade of health issues, including the degradation of collagen.
The skin continues to thicken and get stronger until age 30, and from there it tends to decline and the connective tissues in the skin relax as collagen production decreases. This allows fat cells the room to poke through the connective tissues, accentuating the appearance of cellulite.
Increased Body Fat
Cellulite occurs on lean women, too, yet is exacerbated by higher than recommended body weight. An increase in overall body fat, of course, leads to larger fat cells and increases in fat storage. As the fat cells become larger they push outward on the surrounding areas and protrude through the collagen. The result is bumpy looking tissue.
Estrogen has an impact on the blood vessels. When estrogen begins to decrease, we lose estrogen receptors in blood vessels that can lead to decreased circulation. With decreased circulation you get less oxygen and nutrition to that area, and with that we see a decrease in collagen production. Then, as the bands of connective tissue contract and stiffen with age, they pull down on the skin making cellulite dimples more visible.
An excess of estrogen is also thought to be a contributing factor to cellulite formation. Estrogen is stored in adipose (fat) tissue and inhibits the mobilization of cellulite fat cells for energy and the distribution of fat to other areas of the body. The hormone epinephrine both stimulates and inhibits the release of fat from cells to be used as energy, depending on the receptor it latches on to, alpha or beta. When stimulated, alpha receptors tell fat cells to stay put and trigger constriction of blood vessels and the release of sugar into the bloodstream. When beta receptors are stimulated, they release fat as well as increase the heart rate and relax blood vessels.
In women, for every one beta receptor there is in the thigh, there are nine alpha receptors! This encourages the storage of fat in lieu of mobilizating of fat in that area. Research has shown that abdominal fat cells are more sensitive to beta receptor stimulation by epinephrine than hip and thigh fat cells. This suggests that fat around the abdominal area is easier to mobilize than fat located in the hip and thigh areas.
Divergent levels of hormones in women may also explain the different connective tissue architecture among women: why some have more cellulite than others. The dramatic difference in hormones between men and women explains why cellulite on men is rare.
Today, younger women, even teenagers, are beginning to develop cellulite, and this may reflect a health crises. Research suggests that early onset cellulite may be caused by obesity or estrogen dominance. A poor diet and/or exposure to obesogenic chemicals and estrogen mimickers (like soy and bisphenol-A) can lead to unhealthy body weight. Obesity can also cause premature puberty, which exposes the teen to higher levels of estrogen earlier in life. Too much estrogen, or estrogen dominance, makes fat cells larger and cellulite more pronounced.
Cellulite is complex, and any solution that has a chance of being effective and permanent must address multiple issues: skin thickness, connective tissue, body fat percentage, muscle mass, and estrogen levels. This is why miracle creams fail.
Most OTC creams address only the issue of fat. Some creams (like Nivea Good-Bye Cellulite Gel-Cream) rely on L-carnitine to enhance fat transport into cell mitochondria to be used as energy. L-carnitine does absorb into the skin, and it is often combined with propylene glycol to aid absorption. The test results for these creams is than stunning; researchers tend to think that any increase in fat removed from cellulite and burned for energy resulting from L-carnitine is the consequence of increased activity stemming from the person feeling more energized in general. Taking the supplement by mouth is more likely to be effective in increasing energy and fat burning than rubbing into the skin.
There are things you can do to address the factors contributing to cellulite and thus curtail it and minimize its appearance:
- balance hormones
- stress less
- increase circulation and strengthen blood vessels
- collagen: build, repair and maintain
- reduce edema
- reduce inflammation
- maintain appropriate overall body fat %
- tone muscles
- eat well
There is a correlation between percentage of overall body fat and cellulite. World class female athletes have about a 6-7% body fat, and they will have much less cellulite though some will still have a little bit. Daily movement helps with cellulite in a multitude of ways: It improves circulation and builds muscle tone in cellulite-prone areas, and because the fat layer is on top of the muscle, well-toned, strong muscles are firm and can firm up cellulite prone areas. Improved circulation from moving and grooving will keep the skin and connective tissue healthy by speeding up the elimination of waste and excess fluid. Also, exercise and play helps manage stress and lower cortisol levels. So play, swim, dance, hoola- hoop, rebound, chase your kids – go have fun!
Simple changes to your diet will help balance hormones and clear out excess estrogen. Eliminate soy from your diet; soy stimulates estrogen production, which leads to hormone surplus. You can also try supplementing your diet with hormone harmonizing herbs. Wild yam, evening primrose oil, partridge berry, and passion flower are powerful and safe hormone stabilizers.
Eat lots of fruit and veggies. Cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli and cabbage, are high in Indol 3 carbonyl that helps the body excrete estrogen. Vitamin C and bioflavonoids are important nutrients for collagen and elastin as well as for improving general circulation and lymphatic health.
Dry brushing cellulite prone areas might also help. The thighs, especially the back of thighs are poorly vascularized compared to the rest of the body. So, blood and lymph circulation is low there from the start, which is one reason why cellulite forms. It is key to keep blood and lymph moving, especially in areas prone to cellulite. The circulation activating effects of dry brushing improves vascular efficiency in nutrient delivery and reduces the edema, or swelling, that exacerbates the bumpy appearance of cellulite.
We have crafted the Cell-U-Lite Formula of botanical oils to help address some of the factors that encourage cellulite. These oils act synergistically to improve blood flow, balance excess estrogen, and reduce inflammation and fluid buildup. Carrot seed is a powerful skin-toner, and seabuckthorn berry is nutrient-rich and especially regenerative to the skin. Fennel, juniper, and geranium purify the blood and tissues and relieve fluid retention. Rosemary and grapefruit protect and preserve collagen and the connective tissue that holds together our skin, adipose tissue, and muscle, which leads to a smoother appearance to the skin. Cell-U-Lite can be used as a dry-brushing oil. It can also be massaged directly on to cellulite prone areas; focus on those areas for 4-6 weeks.
The best treatment for cellulite is to learn to love your body just as it is. Steer clear of critical thoughts and caustic comparisons. Appreciate the beauty of your unique form and gaze in amazement at the stunningly intricate functions going on inside your body.
〰 Nadine Artemis
Co-creator of Living Libations
- Houck, J. C.; Sharma, V. K.; Patel, Y. M.; Gladner, J. A. (1968). “Induction of Collagenolytic and Proteolytic Activities by AntiInflammatory Drugs in the Skin and Fibroblasts”.Biochemical Pharmacology 17 (10): 2081–2090. doi:10.1016/0006-2952(68)90182-2. PMID 4301453
- Nurnberger and Muller, 1978
- Blaak, 2001
- Braun & Horton, 2001
- Vitamin C has an important role in its synthesis. Prolonged exposure of cultures of human connective-tissue cells to ascorbate induced an eight-fold increase in the synthesis of collagen with no increase in the rate of synthesis of other proteins (Murad et al., 1981).