Written by Ioannis Nikitidis, Medical Doctor, Dietitian and Nutritionist
It was the last years of the 70’s when Nurnberger and Muller first characterized cellulite as a result of sex-related differences in the structure of skin and subcutaneous tissue. Since then, most studies have agreed that cellulite is present in 80–90 % of post-pubertal women. (1) Besides genetics, gender differences, pregnancy, ethnicity, lack of exercise and lifestyle are considered as the causal factors of cellulite. Despite the number of cosmetic and medical treatments for cellulite, there is little clinical evidence of an improvement in cellulite, and none have been shown to lead to its resolution. (2) Cellulite occurs mainly in females on lower limbs, the pelvic region and abdomen, which are the areas where most fat is stored in women. (3) Considering the body areas where cellulite is developed and the fact that nutrition is one of the causal factors of cellulite, diet is characterized as an important factor for cellulite formation.
Cellulite’s triggering factors related to nutrition
- Being overweight or obese: All forms of overweight are characterized by an increase of fat in subcutaneous tissues. In normal interstitial and microcirculatory exchanges, adipose cells interfere with oxygen, protein ions and water, unleashing processes that alter the interstitial due to hyperinsulinemia. (4) If someone is overweight or obese, weight loss might improve the appearance of the dimpled skin. There are studies showing that on average, cellulite severity decreased following weight loss. Weight gain can accentuate the appearance of cellulite. However, weight loss and exercise won't make cellulite go away completely. (5-6)
- Dietary deficiencies: Diets that are deficient in nutrients such as vitamins, proteins and fibers are often associated with intestinal flora alterations that result in stagnation of feces and dilatation of the ampulla recti, as well as in compression of iliac veins and subsequent hampering of the venous and lymphatic flow in the lower limbs. (4)
Research on nutrition and Cellulite
In 2006 Distante and colleagues tested a formula that contained a plant complex based on Vitis vinifera, Ginkgo biloba, Centella asiatica, Mellilotus officinalis, Fucus vesiculosus, fish oil, and borage oil. Researchers reported that the formula treatment was superior to the control treatment and reported a significant reduction in weight and circumference. Additionally, they noticed a significant improvement in edema and cellulite appearance. (7)
In a 2015 study, researchers evaluated the efficacy of dietary supplementation with specific collagen peptides. Collagen peptides are a bioavailable food supplement without any side effects that are derived from native collagen and they can cross the intestinal barrier, enter the blood circulation system and then they are transported to the skin affecting its metabolic process. The scientific group of the study concluded that regular ingestion of bioactive collagen peptides (BCP) over a period of 6 months led to a clear improvement of the skin appearance in women suffering from moderate cellulite, suggesting that a long-term therapy with orally administered BCP leads to an improvement of cellulite and has a positive impact on skin health. (8)
In an earlier study (2014) , Savikin and colleagues evaluated the effect of dietary supplementation with polyphenol-rich chokeberry juice on cellulite. Their study included women aged 25-48 years old, who consumed daily 100 ml of organic chokeberry juice for a period of 3 months. A marked reduction in the subcutaneous tissue thickness was observed in all subjects, with the average reduction of 1.9 mm. Additionally, the length of subcutaneous tissue fascicles was reduced in 97% of the participants. Furthermore, after 2,5 months of chokeberry juice supplementation, a reduction of edema was observed in 55.2% of the subjects with edema at the baseline. (9)
In a recently published study (2016) researchers supplemented middle-aged women 31-50 years old with a natural dry melon juice highly concentrated in Superoxide Dismutase for 56 days. They reported that significantly reduced cellulite was observed on thighs compared to the placebo after 28 days. Furthermore, this reduction was amplified after 56 days of supplementation. They claimed that the mechanism of action may involve the induction of endogenous antioxidant enzymes expression, leading to the inhibition of fibrosis and the stimulation of lipolysis. (10)
The increased consumption of carbohydrates and fats supports hyperinsulinemia which intensifies the process of lipogenesis and is one of the contributing factors of cellulite’s development. Additionally, a diet that contains a lot of preservatives and salt leads to retention of liquids which results in swellings. (11) The simple or "refined" carbs found in many foods like sweets and soft drinks add “empty” calories without providing beneficial nutrients.
On the other hand, eating more fibers, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, hydrate your body, help you lose weight and provide antioxidants which are crucial against cellulite. (12) On the top of that, a balanced diet that provides an adequate amount of minerals like magnesium is important since it affects the elasticity of the skin and is also used during the collagen-synthesis process. The antioxidant properties of magnesium also have a significant role in cellulite management.
To sum up, a balanced diet with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and a limited consumption of packaged industrial foods, seems to be an important factor against cellulite. A combination of diet and regular exercise can improve your skin’s condition and help you regain your self-confidence on the beach.
Foods to eat and not to eat to avoid cellulite
~Written by Ioannis Nikitidis, Medical Doctor, Dietitian and Nutritionist
4) Mitchel P. Goldman, Pier Antonio Bacci, Gustavo Leibaschoff, Doris Hexsel, Fabrizio Angelini. Cellulite Pathophysiology and Treatment. Taylor and Francis Group, New York, 2006.