The fat will return - but where? (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/How Much Does Liposuction Cost?)

Liposuction, the surgical vacuum removal of fat, is the most popular form of cosmetic surgery in the U.S., with more than 450,000 procedures performed annually at several thousand dollars apiece. According to a recent University of Colorado study, after liposuction, fat is likely to return in unwanted places.

Fat comes back after liposuction

Doctors Teri Hernandez and Robert Eckel randomly selected a sampling of non-obese women to have liposuction procedures performed on their thighs and lower abdomens. A control group of non-obese women underwent no procedure, but they were offered discounted rate liposuction after the study if desired.

The results of the study, which appear in the current issue of the publication Obesity, indicated that the fat returned to all members of the surgery group after a year – but not in the women’s thighs. Dr. Eckel found that it tended to migrate to the upper abdomen, shoulders and triceps.

Dr. Felmont Eaves III, Charlotte, N.C., plastic surgeon and president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, told the New York Times that the University of Colorado liposuction study was both thorough and surprising. He claimed he’d make the information available to his prospective patients.

Study a difficult undertaking

While liposuction procedures have been performed in the U.S. since 1974, this is the first study on fat return. The reason for this, says Dr. Samuel Klein of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Washington University School of Medicine, is that many trained researchers, ample funding and precise measurements are required to give the study scientific weight. And as ethicist Jonathan Moreno of the University of Pennsylvania reminds, surgeons have traditionally resisted such clinical trials.

“A lot of it has to do with the culture of surgery, which is literally hands-on,” said Moreno.

Moreno found that there are nearly as many ways individual plastic surgeons approach specific liposuction procedures as there are procedures. There is no “one size fits all,” which means that documentation for procedures is frequently anecdotal, rather than specifically defined. Surgeons protecting innovative trade secrets is also a factor.

The body defends its fat

Klein pointed to studies on lab rats in which fat always came back after having been liposuctioned. Almost universally, it came back in different places. The body grew new fat cells to replace those lost in new areas because in theory, the liposuction procedure is violent enough to completely disrupt the fishnet-style structure under skin where fat congregates. The body wants to replace the fat, but cannot do so in the area from which it was removed because of the damage.

Dr. Rudolph Leibel of Columbia University believes that something similar occurred with women in the liposuction group of the University of Colorado study. Fat cells, which live for about seven years in the human body, are replaced after death.

New York Times:

One in four plastic surgeries in Russia is successful

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