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When Lipo is a No-Go

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Last year, over 300,000 American men and women chose liposuction to remove localized areas of fat. Best for patients who are at or near their target weight, liposuction can resculpt one’s figure by removing superficial fat cells forever.

Genetics play a huge role in where our body stores fat. For some of us, excess fat appears around the thighs; for others, it can plague us on the upper arms and, for others, the belly is the favored spot. As we age, the location where we store fat can change. Men store fat primarily in the belly, while women tend to store fat in the lower half of the body. However, after menopause, hormone shifts move women’s weight gain to the midriff area, similar to men.

There are two types of fat that appear in the belly area. One of them, called superficial fat, can be removed with liposuction. The other type of belly fat, called visceral fat, lies beneath the muscle layer and cannot be removed with liposuction.  Visceral fat is dangerous and releases proteins into the blood stream that increase our risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Studies suggest that waist circumference is a good indicator of these health risks. The World Health Organization says that a high-risk waist measurement is anything more than 34.6” in women and 40.1” in men.

How can you tell the difference between visceral and subcutaneous fat?

In lieu of imaging equipment, it’s a general rule that weight gained in the waistline tends to be visceral fat. In one study, visceral fat in overweight men and women accounted for 83% of their increased abdominal girth.

Visceral fat cannot be removed with laser lipo because it lies beneath the muscle, which we do not penetrate with the laser. Because visceral fat can’t be treated with liposuction, it’s good to know what can remove it: diet and exercise. In fact, diet and exercise tend to remove visceral fat before superficial fat. Since it’s the visceral fat that contributes to health risks, that’s great news! According to Robert Ross, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University and one of the world’s most preeminent researchers in the health risks associated with increased waist circumference, if someone is losing weight, a greater proportion of that weight will be from visceral fat than from superficial fat.”

Patients who carry lots of visceral fat will typically not be satisfied with the results from laser liposuction, because while we can make a noticeable difference in their overall size, we cannot affect the visceral fat. Therefore, we always encourage patients who have a barrel-shaped midsection to pursue diet and exercise to reduce visceral fat before we use laser lipo to remove the subcutaneous fat.

With the winter holidays upon us, with its feasting and partying, it’s a tough time to think about weight loss. However, losing weight won’t just make you look better, it’ll help you live a longer and healthier life!