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Did you know your genes determine if you will get cellulite?

Fat deposits, genes and cellulite

Beauty truly does lie in the eyes of the beholder, especially when you consider our attitude towards cellulite. No one would ever contest that dimples on the legs of a baby is less than darling. Yet, when placed anywhere on the body of an adult, these same lumps of fat can conjure feelings of anxiety, despair and even loathe.

Our society has become fat-phobic. We spend countless amounts of time and money trying to banish fat from our bodies. However, even with numerous products, each claiming to be the miracle cure, cellulite remains unconquerable. If you completely overhaul your diet and lifestyle, there’s a possibility you might be able to keep cellulite at bay. Unless your genes dictate otherwise. Genetic variation is partly the reason why many of us – lean and overweight alike – are plagued by cellulite. Two genes in particular, ACE and HIF1A, can be held responsible for the appearance of these fat deposits.

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Cellulite is more of a problem for women than men, because of the way our bodies are designed. Male bodies have a single layer of fat all over. Female bodies have three layers of fat in the areas prone to cellulite, such as the stomach and buttocks. These extra layers increase the likelihood of fat cells infiltrating the connective tissue. Also, there’s a fundamental difference between the connective tissue of men versus women. Men have more collagen in their connective tissue, and their collagen fibres are arranged in a mesh-like pattern. In women, the collagen fibres form vertically, making it easier for fat cells to push through the collagen matrix. Essentially, women’s bodies are designed for the development of cellulite. This explains the 85-98% prevalence of these unwanted lumps in women in the developed world.

Our genes can differ slightly from one person to another due to genetic variants (small changes) in the DNA code. Genetic variants of ACE and HIF1A are associated with altered levels of cellulite in lean women, due to changes in the blood flow to fat cells.

The ACE gene makes the angiotensin I converting enzyme, which is responsible for the vasoconstriction (narrowing) of our blood vessels. People with the deletion (rs4343 G) variant have especially narrow blood vessels. This increases their blood pressure and limits oxygen supply to their tissues. Limiting the oxygen supply to fat tissue stimulates fat tissue deposits. Hence, it is not surprising that lean women with the deletion variant are more likely to have cellulite.

An HIF1A variant has the opposite effect. Women with a rare version of HIF1A, known as rs11549465, are actually protected against cellulite. The HIF1A gene gives instructions to make a protein that regulates our body’s response to hypoxia when cells don’t receive sufficient oxygen. The HIF1A protein is activated under low oxygen conditions, and in fat cells it impairs their normal functions, leading to fat fibrosis (the formation of extra connective tissue). People who inherit rs11549465 make less HIF1A protein. Hence, even when activated by low oxygen conditions, the effects of HIF1A on fats cells will be blunted, decreasing the risk of cellulite.

Cellulite serves no clear purpose in our bodies. Instead it’s a cosmetic condition that leaves even doctors and scientists baffled. If you happen to inherit the cellulite-crushing version of HIF1A you should thank your lucky stars. For the rest of us, there’s still hope, because the more we learn about our genes, the closer we get to a ‘beautification intervention’ that will destroy cellulite for good.

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