The dreaded blight of cellulite is so common in our modern society that it's almost regarded as a requisite of femaleness. And yet, the anti-cellulite industry thrives on the widespread desire for taut thighs and a dimple-free derriere.
In spite of the billions of dollars we spend on anti-cellulite treatments each year, little consensus exists as to what causes the condition in the first place. Since launching my global cellulite investigation (I have, ahem, personal reasons...), I've uncovered four competing theories that continually arise in the literature.
Theory #1: Cellulite is fat.
There's no shortage of cellulite experts who claim cellulite is fat, plain and simple. In the seventies, shortly after the term first gained acceptance in the American lexicon, medical researchers often referred to the condition as "so-called cellulite" since they saw little point in differentiating it from good ol' fashioned fat.
The logical treatment option, according to the fat theory of cellulite, is to lose weight. If cellulite is fat, losing weight is bound to result in a decrease in cellulite. Sounds reasonable, right? The only problem is, a lot of skinny women have cellulite while a lot of bigger women are cellulite-free. This is when cellulite theory #2 usually comes into play.
Theory #2: Cellulite is genetic.
The genetic theory is often referenced but rarely explained. What are the genetic factors that lead to cellulite? Some say the thickness of the skin is genetic. One dermatologist claims she can predict cellulite from birth depending on the number of collagen fibers found in a biopsy of the infant's skin (although, with ninety percent of women suffering from cellulite, the odds are stacked in her favor).
Proponents of the genetic theory of cellulite say there isn't much women can do to treat the condition. Cellulite is part of being a woman, so embrace your curves and be happy. Not a bad point. And yet...
Theory #3: Cellulite is caused by hormonal imbalance.
The link between cellulite and estrogen is well documented. Many women notice a change in their cellulite while pregnant or breastfeeding (some even notice a chance for the better!). Men rarely experience cellulite unless they are in an estrogen-dominant state, such as when they are receiving estrogen therapy for prostate cancer.1
If you subscribe to the estrogen theory of cellulite, the best cellulite treatment is obvious: hormonal balance. How to go about achieving hormonal balance is a much more difficult question, but one that deserves our attention.
Theory #4: Cellulite is a symptom of a sluggish lymphatic system.
The lymph theory of cellulite is commonly acknowledged in alternative health care circles. The lymphatic system is often referred to as "the secondary circulatory system," even though the human body contains twice as much lymph as it does blood. While blood carries oxygen and other nutrients to our cells, lymph is responsible for carrying away the metabolic debris. It also carries away bacteria, toxins, and other substances that aren't assimilated into the body. According to the lymph theory of cellulite, the lymphatic system grows sluggish when overwhelmed with too much waste matter and stores the extra material in fat deposits underneath the skin. This lymphatic congestion is what leads to cellulite.
If the lymph theory of cellulite is true, it opens up a range of cellulite treatment options. Any treatment or exercise that fosters healthy lymphatic flow is likely to have an effect on cellulite. Diet becomes especially important since this is the raw material that will eventually be transported through the lymphatic vessels.
These are the four theories of cellulite we've come across in our investigation thus far. Are we missing any? Which theory resonates most with your Cellulite Story?