After liposuction, fat may come back -- usually to the belly

Liposuction may not be the permanent body-contouring solution that some patients hope. Not only does the fat come back, a small study suggests, it can come back in different, equally undesirable places.

That’s what researchers from the University of Colorado saw when 14 healthy, non-obese women underwent “contouring” liposuction. The women, age 40 on average, weren’t fat overall — weighing an average of 138 pounds – they just had disproportionately large deposits of adipose tissue (a more formal name for fat) in their lower abdomen, hips or thighs. The liposuction procedure removed on average 2.1% of their body fat, or about 2.9 pounds.

The lipo’ed women, along with a control group of 18 women who had similar fat deposits but who did not have liposuction, promised not to make any major lifestyle changes in the next year. The researchers measured the change in the women’s body fat at six weeks, six months and one year using MRI and X-ray scans.

The fat didn’t stay off in the lipo group — one year later, neither group showed any significant change in original body fat from when the study started. The adipose tissue reappeared primarily in the abdominal area – as subcutaneous (just below the skin) fat and visceral (deep) fat around the abdomen, regardless of whether the abdomen was the target of the liposuction.

The fat mostly stayed off the thighs, the researchers wrote in their conclusion, but “a slower return of fat was still apparent.” The findings were published online ahead of print last month in Obesity and discussed in this New York Times article.


Exactly why the fat migrated to the abdominal area is a mystery, but it’s one that might prove to have health consequences — carrying excess visceral fat raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The authors conclude: “Mechanisms behind restoration of the [adipose tissue] mass following surgical removal remain uncertain but are of great interest.”

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