Zapping the fat it really that easy?
January 8, 2012 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Zerona uses a low-level laser which "penetrates the surface and emulsifies fat tissue." Zeltiq "uses cryolipolysis—or cold therapy—to freeze fat, thereby destroying the fat cells." Are they safe?

A recent groupon for Zerona has me wondering how safe these "low level laser" and "cold sculpting" techniques are. Where does the fat actually go? Assuming a healthy life style, does it stay gone? Is the fat being used to fuel an alien armada?
posted by Nickel to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I heard a report on the radio about the Zeltiq (or something like it). What it (purportedly?) does is causes the cells to die off in a somewhat controlled manner, using the same garbage collection process that the body uses for all cells that die off. It takes weeks, or months, to happen. It was (purportedly?) discovered when kids were brought into doctors offices with sunken cheeks and it was correlated that these kids had been eating ice by putting it into their cheeks and letting it melt. They investigated and the fat tissue was getting destroyed by the cold.

I assume it stays just as gone as any other fat loss does- keep the same habits that built the fat up, and it will reappear.
posted by gjc at 3:03 PM on January 8, 2012

I'm not so sure, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised if snake oil found its way to Groupon. If I'm promulgating bad info, I apologize, but in my defense I'm also looking forward to the alien armada thing.
posted by rhizome at 3:06 PM on January 8, 2012

FDA says they're safe and work, according to Wikipedia: Zerona and Zeltiq. My guess would be that the body disposes of the dead tissue like and other dead cells (break down and elimination; happens all the time).

Will it come back? Absolutely yes if you don't change your diet and lifestyle.
posted by sbutler at 3:07 PM on January 8, 2012

Will it come back? Absolutely yes, even if you do change your diet: your body knows where your fat is supposed to be deposited, just like it knows what shape your nose is and how long your fingers are. It will just keep dumping the fat where it's designed to go.

I remember, years back, watching Roseanne on the Oprah show, talking about having had a breast reduction; she explicitly said "They just grew back".
posted by jrochest at 3:18 PM on January 8, 2012

How interesting! I've been researching it now and found this thread that cites some of the academic literature about Zeltiq:

It does seem to be clinically effective, with no acute side-effects so far. One person said that they underwent the procedure and did have spot-reduction of the fat, but when they re-gained weight a while later, the fat came back in the same spot. Spot reduction methods that rely on the body's own clearing out mechanisms might also be more of a problem if you have any kind of autoimmune disorder, because the damage you are doing will activate a low-level inflammation response, which isn't all that healthy if it is chronic.

I have heard a few (unrelated to Zeltiq) accounts of people taking ice baths to help with weight-loss / stimulate recovery after intense exercise. I wonder if this autophagy has anything to do with it - the standard line was that adipose tissue went into overdrive keeping the body warm and caused extra energy to be expended.
posted by permiechickie at 3:26 PM on January 8, 2012

Are they safe?

The FDA seems to think so. The mechanism of how it seems to work is still not well characterized and no one knows if there might be any effects that would appear after three years, but it probably actually is quite safe.

Where does the fat actually go?

Fat isn't just gooey stuff in your body that makes you look pudgy, it is an essential organ also composed of adipocytes (fat cells) dispersed throughout your body that helps regulate your endocrine system as well as generating and breaking down the gooey stuff. The proposed, and quite reasonable, mechanism is that the treatment causes something very much like popsicle panniculitis where fat cells die from cold at warmer temperatures than other skin associated cells do, allowing adipocytes to be specifically targeted. So what likely happens to the fat is that as adipocytes die the number of adipocyte to mass of fat ratio in the areas affected goes down causing the survivors to realize that they are surrounded by more fat than is wanted per cell causing them to begin breaking down the fat to compensate.

I would very much recommend reading this post and the comments talking about a different adipocidal treatment.

Assuming a healthy life style, does it stay gone?

Fuck if I know, and no one else really knows either, its only been three years since people started trying this. There have been reports of fat mass returning to the targeted areas preferentially with weight gain though I suspect that results will end up varying among people.

Really though, if I were interested in cosmetic fat reduction, I would see this as a powerful argument for ice baths and not expensive lasers. The laser is just the gimmick that allows them to charge.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:42 PM on January 8, 2012

You can hear Rob Wolf discuss it on this podcast. I can't listen to it now and am afraid I'll mischaracterise what he said, but as I recall he said it sounded safe but ultimately useless, as the fat would eventually migrate back.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:33 PM on January 8, 2012

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