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Fat after liposuction: the truth about the long term effects and results after surgery
A study on the long-term effects of liposuction has been published in the Obesity journal. The results were unanticipated. Not only did individuals regain all suctioned fat within the span of a single year, but it reappeared in different locations on their bodies. More interesting still, this new information has done little to dissuade women, including those directly involved in the study, from continuing to undergo the surgical procedure.
The normal short-term effects of liposuction are well known and include swelling and bruising of surrounding tissue (1). Other more serious complications involve shock, infection, and scarring (1). Despite this, the process is highly popular. In fact, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported a 5% increase in individuals signing up for cosmetic procedures in 2010 in comparison to the previous year (2). Of the cosmetic surgeries performed, liposuction was the fourth most popular and was completed on approximately 200,000 Americans (1,2).
Because of this, the long-term effects of liposuction should be of interest to a large number of Americans. Fortunately, doctors Teri L. Hernandez and Robert H. Eckel designed a study to find out just what this impact might be.
The doctors worked with 32 women participants considered to be healthy and not obese, but who were disproportionately bottom heavy (3). These women were randomly divided into two groups: one group of 14 individuals who would undergo liposuction and one group of 18 individuals who would not, instead serving as a control (3). The control group was rewarded for their agreement to postpone liposuction for the study’s duration by the promise of receiving the procedure at the end for a discounted price (1).
Fat was removed from the thighs and lower abdominal regions of the 18 individuals in the experimental group (3). Then measurements of both groups were taken and compared 6 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months later (1). At 6 weeks there was a body fat difference of 2.1% between the two groups, which diminished substantially by 6 months and vanished almost completely by 12 months (3). At the end of the study the two groups had essentially statistically identical body fat compositions.
However, the experimental group had not returned to their initial body shape. Contrary to expectations, the operated on lower regions of their bodies maintained their smaller size (3). Their upper abdominal region, shoulders, and arms, on the other hand, had expanded to hold the same amount of fat that had been suctioned away from their lower stomachs and thighs (1). As doctor Robert H. Eckel explained, “the fat was redistributed upstairs” (3).
REACTIONS TO RESULTS
These results have led to several questions about the nature of fat cell composition and distribution. Dr. Rudolph Leibel, a Columbia University researcher and obesity specialist, answers these questions. He explains that the body ultimately controls its fat cells and overall fat composition (1). It does so by automatically replacing dead fat cells with new ones. This study only demonstrates this process. However, because liposuction damages the tissues in which it takes place, new cell growth is inhibited in these areas; as a consequence, cells reform elsewhere (1).
Despite this phenomenon, the women operated on in the study were anything but dismayed at their overall results. They were not upset that their upper bodies had grown in size; instead, they were simply happy to have smaller hips and thighs (3). Further, a majority of the women in the control group, even after being informed of results, still wished to undergo their discounted liposuction surgeries (1). It may therefore be safe to assume that despite this published study, cosmetic surgeries will only continue to soar in popularity. But all will be better informed of what to expect.
AN INTERESTING QUESTION
An additional question has been raised as a result of these findings: why was this not studied years ago? (4). Considering that liposuction has been performed since as early as 1974, there has been sufficient time for several such studies to have taken place (4). One plausible explanation is that there was fear that once the general population was informed of any negative results, the demand for the cosmetic surgery would plummet. Interestingly enough, this does not appear to be the case.
1. "Fat Removed Via Liposuction Returns in All the Wrong Places" written by Drucilla Dyess. Copyright: Health News. Article URL: http://www.healthnews.com/Categories/Diet-Weight-Loss/Fat-Removed-Via-Liposuction-Returns-in-All-the-Wrong-Places
2. "Rebound in Economy Leads to Increase in Plastic Surgery" written by Susan Brady. Copyright: Health News. Article URL: http://www.healthnews.com/en/Categories/Health-Beauty/Rebound-in-Economy-Leads-to-Increase-in-Plastic-Surgery
3. "Fat Lipsuctioned From Hips Returns to Belly Within 12 Months" written by Catharine Paddock, PhD. Copyright: Medical News Today. Article URL: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/223917.php
4. "Study: Fat grows back after liposuction" by Landon Hall. Copyright: The Orange County Register. Article URL: http://www.ocregister.com/common/printer/view.php?db=ocregister&id=298767