whitebox header

Condition - Cellulite

By Nutri People

Cellulite is much more common in women than in men and usually occurs after puberty. In fact, almost all women (at least eight out of 10) have some degree of cellulite, which is nothing more than just a localised collection of fat, that produces the dimpled appearance of skin that can develop on the thighs, hips, stomach, and buttocks. Even thin people are not immune.

The science of cellulite

The skin is made up of three layers. The topmost layer of skin is called the epidermis. Just below this is a layer called the dermis. The dermis is rich in collagen (connective tissue), which helps to keep everything where it should be. The connective tissue of the dermis is actually arranged in the form of cylindrical-shaped vertical chambers, which run through the third layer of the skin called the fat layer (or subcutaneous layer). These vertical chambers help to retain the fat cells of the third layer in place. 

Cellulite is thought to be caused by a weakening of the connective tissue, which loses its ability to retain the fat tissue. As a result, the fat layer bulges upwards towards the skin surface, creating a dimpled appearance.

Possible contributing factors

There are a number of factors, which can influence whether a person has cellulite and how much they have: 

  • Gender - cellulite is much more common in women than men. This is because women, generally, have a higher percentage of body fat than men and the thighs, hips and buttocks of women, which are common areas for cellulite, tend to store more of this body fat.
  • Genetics - genes may predispose an individual to cellulite. One possible way they do this is by determining the thickness of your dermis and the way the connective tissue and subcutaneous fat are distributed.
  • Hormones - hormones are thought to play a role because cellulite is more likely to appear in women after puberty, during pregnancy or following the use of hormonal contraceptives. Oestrogen seems to be a key hormone that initiates and exacerbates cellulite. Other hormones that may play a role in its development include insulin and thyroid hormones. Cellulite is not normally found in men who have normal amounts of male hormones (called androgens), but is more common in those with lower than normal amounts.
  • Stress - chronic stress can increase levels of hormones called catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline), which have been linked to the development of cellulite. 
  • Weight - when you gain weight, most of that fat is stored more readily in cellulite-prone areas, like the thighs and buttocks. This will result in cellulite becoming more noticeable because fat then protrudes more from the vertical chambers of connective tissue into the skin. But cellulite can still be present in lean individuals.
  • Lifestyle - cellulite may be more prevalent in smokers, possibly due to the negative effects of smoking on connective tissue. It also appears to be more common in those who exercise very little, or those that sit and stand in one position for long periods of time. 
  • Ageing - cellulite becomes more common with age. Due to the ageing process, there is a change in the structure of the skin and a loss in some of the skin’s elasticity.
  • Diet - those that consume excessive amounts of saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and salt, and have a low fibre intake, are more likely to have greater amounts of cellulite.

Nutritional considerations

The following nutrients may help to support and maintain a healthy, smooth appearance of the skin: 

  • Collagen is an important component of connective tissue. 
  • Vitamin C is required for the production of collagen and the synthesis of hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine (major components of collagen).
  • Copper is required for the cross-linking of collagen, which is essential for its strength and stability.
  • Quercetin & Bromelain. Quercetin is a natural bioflavonoid also known as a flavonol. Studies have shown that quercetin can inhibit an enzyme called collagenase. Collagenase is involved in the breakdown of collagen. Bromelain is an enzyme obtained from the stem of pineapple. Studies suggest that bromelain may enhance the absorption of quercetin in the intestine.
  • Green tea. Polyphenols are substances present in a variety of plants and possess antioxidant activity. Studies suggest that two types of polyphenols present in green tea, called catechin and epigallocatechin gallate, can also help to slow the breakdown of collagen by reducing the activity of the enzyme collagenase.
  • Phyto-oestrogens present in fermented soy products and flax seeds, may help to support healthy oestrogen levels.
  • Flavonoids. A common feature of cellulite is the build-up of fluid in the affected areas, which may be related to leakiness in the small blood vessels under the skin. Evidence suggests that plant-derived flavonoids help to maintain normal small blood vessel permeability. Examples of plant-derived flavonoids are diosmin, rutin and anthocyanidins found in bilberry fruits. 
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Studies suggest that this fatty acid may help to maintain healthy body fat and optimum lean body mass.

Dietary advice

  • Eat a healthy diet, rich in fibre, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Reduce dietary salt intake. A diet high in salt can cause fluid retention, which may worsen the appearance of cellulite.
  • Quercetin is found in red grapes, onions, apples, berries (such as blueberries, blackberries, bilberries and blackcurrants) and green tea. Quercetin appears to be well-absorbed from dietary sources.
  • Anthocyanidins are present in red, blue and purple berries (bilberry, elderberry, blackcurrant and blueberry), red and purple grapes and red wine (preferably organic and avoid an excessive intake).
  • Add fresh ginger to your diet. According to a scientific study, gingerone, the major pungent component of ginger, may help to prevent fat storage, by increasing fat breakdown. The same research group showed that ginger may also reduce the absorption of dietary fat from the intestine.
  • Avoid yo-yo diets and rapid weight loss regimens.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Researchers from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons showed that weight loss in overweight patients improved the appearance of cellulite. To achieve a healthy body weight, exercise (see ‘lifestyle’ below) and eat low glycaemic index foods, which means eating foods that release their sugar more slowly into your bloodstream. This means replacing foods such as sugar, chocolates, cakes, pastries, processed cereals, biscuits, white bread made with refined white flour, white rice and pasta, sweets, starchy vegetables, sugary drinks and fruit juice, with nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods including whole grains, fruits, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), nuts and seeds and non-starchy vegetables.
  • Eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, including oily fish (salmon, sardines, fresh tuna, mackerel and herring) and cold pressed oils (flax, hemp, and walnut oil). 
  • Reduce foods that are high in saturated fats like red meat, dairy products and fried foods. Choose lean cuts of meat and low fat, unprocessed cheeses.
  • When preparing foods, grill, bake or stir-fry with olive oil.
  • Drink sufficient amounts of water throughout the day.

Lifestyle recommendations

  • Avoid smoking. Studies have shown that skin cells exposed to smoke produce more of the collagenase enzymes (which break down collagen) than normal skin cells.
  • Exercise, together with a healthy diet, may help to reduce the appearance of cellulite. An exercise routine that combines aerobic and strength training is likely to yield the greatest improvements. Miriam Nelson, Associate Professor of Nutrition at Tufts University and Director of Research on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention, showed that women who followed a weight loss diet, combined with weight training exercises, lost 44% more weight than those who followed the diet alone. When using weights, focus on strengthening the muscles in your legs, thighs and buttocks, which are the prime areas for cellulite development. Weight training can actually increase your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn at rest). Aerobic exercises, including cycling, running and brisk walking, can help to burn calories.
  • Massage may help to improve circulation of blood and lymph. The direction of massage should be towards the heart.
  • Skin brushing, using a natural fibre brush, may help to improve blood and lymph flow. Brush the skin of the legs and buttocks in an upward direction. Do this for at least five minutes, twice daily.
  • Relaxation exercises (e.g. yoga) may help to reduce stress levels.

Printable versionSend to a friendShare

Related articles

whitebox footer

Nutrient list Nutrient list info

Recently added nutrients:

Related nutrients list empty

What should I take?

Click here to see which nutrients may be beneficial

Question Mark