People who undergo abdominal liposuction may experience a compensatory increase in visceral fat, which in turn may raise their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, researchers from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. However, physical activity may prevent this compensatory weight gain, the researchers added.

Visceral fat, also known as organ fat, abdominal fat or intra-abdominal fat lies deep inside the abdominal cavity, in between the organs, such as the kidneys, intestines, liver, stomach, etc. Visceral fat is different from fat under the skin (subcutaneous fat) or intramuscular fat which is interspersed in skeletal muscles. Fat in the buttocks or thighs is subcutaneous fat, while fat deep inside the abdomen is visceral. Excess visceral fat increases the risk of developing inflammatory diseases, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other obesity-related diseases and conditions.

The authors explained that while liposuction has become one of the most common surgical procedures for improving people’s looks, nobody really knows what its long-term impact is on health. Some studies have shown that liposuction can trigger metabolic changes in the patient’s body making it regain fat – in other words, it takes fat out from one part of the body, and eventually the body adds fat to another part.

Fabiana Braga Benatti, PhD, and team set out to determine what the effects of liposuction might be on body fat distribution. They also investigated whether regular physical exercise might help prevent fat regain.

Dr. Benatti said:

“We found that removing adipose tissue from the body, as liposuction does, may result in a decrease in total energy expenditure and compensatory growth of visceral fat which is associated with heart disease.

The good news is that exercise training was effective in counteracting this compensatory growth. If someone chooses to undergo liposuction, it is very important, if not essential, that this person exercises after the surgery.”

Thirty-six healthy female adults underwent liposuction in which a small amount of fat was removed. Two months later they were randomly selected into one of two groups:

  • The exercise group – participants took part in a 4-month exercise program
  • The non-exercise group

Liposuction was found to effectively help reduce subcutaneous abdominal fat (under the skin). However, after six months, those in the non-exercise group had a 10% increase in visceral fat and consumed fewer calories each day, when compared to those in the exercise group.

Fat removal using cannula during tumescent liposuction
Liposuction removes subcutaneous abdominal fat effectively; but without exercise, visceral fat levels will rise after the operation

Dr. Benatti said:

“We believe patients should be informed of the possible compensatory visceral fat growth and the potential health risks associated with a liposuction procedure. Additionally, health professionals are encouraged to recommend exercise training as an intervention following liposuction surgery.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist