Cellulite, water intake linked

Besides requests for weight-loss diets, some of the most frequently asked questions on the DietDoc Forum are related to cellulite.

I promised these readers that I would write about an article that was published in the Sunday Times Lifestyle supplement last year. The contribution, by Amanda Ursell, was called "Smooth Operator", and Ursell writes about a book by Dr Howard Murad called "The Cellulite Solution". The controversy about this is still ongoing.

Murad is a Los Angeles-based dermatologist who treats celebrities for cellulite.

Murad's theory
Murad has turned the theory of cellulite on its head. The doctor is of the opinion that cellulite isn't a fat problem at all, but a skin problem - one of insufficient water intake.

The theory goes like this: the fat that has risen to just underneath the surface of the skin (giving that ugly orange-peel appearance of cellulite) should actually be buried deep within the structure of the skin so that it's not visible.

The reason why these fat cells migrate to underneath the surface of the skin is dehydration of the dermis (the top layer) of the skin. If fat cells are buried deep down in the lower layers of the skin, and are surrounded by well-hydrated connective tissue, they don't cause problems.

Furthermore, Murad believes that the connective tissues of the deep skin layers lose their water and become dehydrated because of damage caused by free radicals. You may have heard about free radicals with regards to the damage they cause to blood vessels and other tissues, leading to heart disease and cancer and other degenerative diseases and conditions.

Free radicals are formed by exposure to cigarette smoke, pollution, sunlight, stress hormones, excessive exercise and unbalanced diets rich in trans-fatty acids and other negative nutrients.

It therefore stands to reason that Murad doesn't recommend drinking vast quantities of water to rehydrate the skin, but rather that anyone struggling with cellulite should improve their diet and lifestyle.

Tips to rehydrate the skin
a) Diet

Follow a diet that's rich in antioxidants and protective nutrients to combat free radicals and tissue damage. Such a diet would include most fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and other phytochemicals - all of which have an antioxidant effect.

The diet should also be rich in lecithin, a nutrient that can help repair tissue cells in the skin. Foods rich in lecithin are eggs, soybeans and products made from soybeans such as tofu and soymilk, brassica vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli), spinach, peanuts, lettuce and apples.

Murad also recommends that people battling with cellulite should take a lecithin supplement on a daily basis. Such supplements can be purchased at chemists or health shops.

Essential fatty acids are found in flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, brazil nuts, rapeseed, oily fish and omega-3 enriched foods such as the omega-3 eggs and milk that are available in most supermarkets. These foods will also help to improve tissue cell hydration in the skin.

Lean protein foods such as lean meat (venison, ostrich), poultry, fat-free milk, yoghurt and cottage cheese, and legumes provide amino acids to boost production of connective tissues such as elastin and collagen so that they're capable of taking up more water.

Finally, the diet should contain glucosamine, which is primarily found in seafood (crabs, oysters, prawns). If you don't include these foods in your diet on a regular basis, you can take a glucosamine supplement on a daily basis.

The diet shouldn't contain trans-fatty acids, which are found in brick or solid margarine, pastries, pies and cakes made with commercial margarine. Other saturated fats found in butter, visible fat on meat, poultry skin, processed meat products like most sausages, and fatty cheeses, should also be avoided.

b) Additional aids to fight cellulite
Murad suggests that the skin will react well to stimulation if you use regular massage and gentle exercise like going for walks in the fresh air to improve blood flow in the skin and the rest of the body.

You can try out various products produced by cosmetic companies (Roc, Helancyl etc) and use them as skin rubs on a daily basis.

Factors that boost cellulite
The following should be avoided at all costs, because they promote cellulite formation:

  • Any foods that contain trans-fatty acids (cakes, fatty snacks, fatty meat, etc) or are overcooked (this destroys vital nutrients)
  • Smoking (it reduces blood flow to the skin, destroys vitamin C and is loaded with pollutants)
  • Excessive exercise (which stresses the body to form free radicals)
  • Exposure to excess sun, pollution or stress
  • Liposuction (according to Murad, we need the cushion of fat under our skins for support and removing it may promote cellulite)
  • Wear constrictive clothing (cuts off circulation)

- (Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc, updated April 2011)

Ursell, A (2005). Smooth Operator. Sunday Times Lifestyle, 11 September 2005, p 16.

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