Although liposuction is known as a cosmetic procedure for eliminating fat in unwanted places, a recent study indicates that the procedure may also offer health benefits as a result. Over 289,000 liposuction procedures were performed in the U.S. last year (according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery), so just what does this imply?
In the study, patients who had undergone liposuction saw a reduction in their triglyceride (a fat in the blood) levels and a decrease their white blood cell count. Since elevated levels of triglyceride and white blood cell counts are typically linked to a greater risk for diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease, this may suggest that patients undergoing liposuction may also decrease their risk of acquiring these health problems.
In the study, 300 patients undergoing a tummy tuck and/or liposuction had their cholesterol and triglyceride levels measured. It was found, that for patients with normal triglyceride levels, the procedure had no effect. However, for patients with elevated levels, there was an average of 43% reduction in triglyceride levels after surgery, which is approximately twice of what is attained by taking a prescription drug. (Note: this does not imply that medication can be replaced by liposuction.)
In addition, white blood cell counts were also 11% lower after the procedure. However, there were no substantial changes in total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol.
During the study, patients had not been instructed to alter their activity levels or diets, aside from abstaining from exercise up to a month after surgery. Because there were minimal weight fluctuations, and the cholesterol levels (which are affected by diet) remained constant, it is deemed that the decrease in the triglycerides and number of white blood cells were indeed caused by fat removal from the liposuction, and not by alteration in diet or weight loss.
There was no control group of patients who were not undergoing liposuction. This would have been the ideal way to conduct the study; however, this is not always practical due to financial considerations and the difficulty of finding the right patients who would match the study’s requirements.
Dr. Shaista Malik, medical director of the Preventive Cardiology Program, states that patients would have to be followed for several years to see if there are reductions in strokes or heart attacks. She also adds that there has to be a change in LDL or HDL cholesterol to see a decrease in heart attacks.
Dr. Terry Dubrow of Newport Beach, California, stresses that many studies have been conducted on how liposuction affects obese patients, and it has been shown that liposuction has no health benefits, unless supplemented by alterations in exercise and diet. He also emphasizes that the drop in triglyceride levels offers no benefits unless there is also a change in lipid profiles (the bad LDL and good HDL). Metabolic syndromes, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular risk factors would remain unaffected.
However, a professor at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine says that because of the significant decrease in the triglyceride levels and white blood cell count, the study’s results should not be dismissed, as they could have potential positive implications. However, more research is needed to look into long term benefits and to study differences in outcomes between women and men.
At this point, liposuction remains as a cosmetic, not a health, procedure.