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Buyer Beware: Non-Invasive Fat Loss Procedures Don’t Work Well

By Marisa Weiss, M.D. on February 17th, 2016 Categories: Uncategorized

Many of us would love a quick fix for losing extra fat. Noninvasive fat-removal procedures are particularly tempting because they target areas that many people consider problems — thighs, belly, hips — without cutting the skin.

In these non-surgical procedures, a technician uses a tool to target fat cells with cold or heat to try to destroy them. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the procedures described below, but they do have some risks. Be sure that you understand all the risks before deciding to have one of these procedures. It’s also important to know that these procedures are unlikely to produce dramatic results. So even a small risk might not be worth it. Plus, these procedures are expensive and not covered by insurance.

It’s also important to know that in many cases it’s not clear who paid for the studies that were done on these procedures. It may have been the company that created the procedure or device, which could bias the research. Still, even with this potential bias, the studies don’t show strong results.

The CoolSculpting procedure uses cryolipolysis, which basically freezes fat. The fat cells are exposed to extreme cold, which makes the cells self-destruct. The destroyed fat cells are then reabsorbed by the body over time.

Studies of CoolSculpting show that the procedure worked — but not dramatically — in about 86% of people treated. Fat in the treated area was reduced about 20% to 25%. While the trials found the procedure to be relatively safe for most people, some complained of numbness and/or pain, which usually eased after a few weeks or months.

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) uses a low-powered laser to zap fat cells. People usually have six to eight sessions that last about 30 minutes each. The laser manufacturer recommends that people getting LLLT also take a supplement that contains vitamin B3, Ginkgo biloba, green tea extract, and L-carnitine (an amino acid) and is supposed to support the body’s blood circulation and immune systems. Still, the studies didn’t show LLLT to be effective on its own without the supplement. And in my last column, I explained how supplements may not help you lose weight — and in fact might harm you.

VelaShape III uses radio waves and infrared light to heat and break down fat cells, which are then sucked out with a vacuum (liposuction). The area then receives a mechanical massage from vibrations. VelaShape III has shown some small success in temporarily reducing fat in the abdomen and thighs.

One study found an average 1-inch reduction in the abdomen 10 weeks after one treatment. Another study showed that the procedure reduced thigh size in 85% of people. Results ranged from 0.4 inch to 2.8 inches. In general, VelaShape III doesn’t offer dramatic results, and the procedure can cause bruising, redness, and swelling.

Liposonix and UltraShape are procedures that use high-frequency ultrasound to heat up and kill fat cells.

Liposonix targets the abdomen. In studies, most people lost 1 inch over 8 to 12 weeks. Some people reported pain during or after the procedure, bruising, and swelling.

UltraShape also uses ultrasound energy but pulses it. It is approved for use on the abdomen, lower back, hips, and thighs. Studies showed an average reduction of 1 inch with no serious side effects.

In general, these noninvasive procedures cause fewer health problems than supplements. Still, they cost a lot of money and offer minimal results that may not last — and there is the potential for those study results to be biased.

As I mentioned in part one of this column, the proven way to lose extra fat is regular exercise and a healthy diet. And when compared to the procedures above, exercise and eating well are much less expensive. Plus they benefit your overall health; not just your waistline.

For more information, you can read my other columns about safe ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight:

Losing Weight and Eating a Low-Fat Diet May Help You Live Longer
Getting to a Healthy Weight, One Good Choice at a Time
Dieting vs. Rethinking How You Eat
The Ins and Outs of Insulin Resistance
Sleep Tight, Slim Down

Marisa Weiss, M.D.

Marisa Weiss, M.D. is the founder, president, and chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org, the world's most trafficked online resource for medically reviewed breast health and breast cancer information, reaching over 14 million visitors per year. A breast cancer oncologist with over twenty years of active practice in the Philadelphia region, Dr. Weiss is regarded as a visionary advocate for her innovative and steadfast approach to informing, empowering, and treating patients with breast cancer.

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