Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow is the day I get to use my Lipo Laser and Ultrasound Cavitation gift certificate posted about in the my last blog! As I am new to all this, I am naturally curious as to how it works. Having read the advertising flyers, specifically the Lipo Laser ones, from a number of clinics online, I found their claims ranged from plausible to, I thought, rather exaggerated. Consequently, along with the advertising, I read a couple of research papers to see what the science had to say about it all.

Despite the bad press fat gets, fat cells are essential to the health of our body’s day to day functioning. Yes, those troublesome cells that you struggle to lose with gym work and days of sugar-free, low-carb diets. They’re actually important pieces of our body’s overall health and functioning.  A normal person has between 25 and 35 billion fat cells, but this can increase to as many as 100 to 150 billion cells in a bad year! The number of fat cells in the body remains constant after their formation; the cells just expand and shrink in size during weight gain and loss. Four critical periods have been identified during which time the number of fat cells a person has will increase: between 12 and 18 months of age; between 12 and 16 years of age; in adulthood when an individual gains in excess of 60% of their healthy weight, and during pregnancy. If you are reading this now, the number of fat cells you have, has probably already been determined.

The first thing to note is that the correct term for this procedure is Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) – advertised as Lipo Laser, SculpSure, Zerona, or Smart Lipo etc – and is classed as a “non-invasive body shaping procedure”. Great for those of us who are not all that keen on needles or pain!

It is advertised as a “body-contouring treatment designed to remove stubborn areas of fat to give you a slimmer, more defined figure”, and as being safe, painless, and entailing no down time or any side effects. It is also touted as being “long lasting with results evident after the first treatment”!

Some advertising puts the possible loss per session at “approximate 3-5 cm” with the provision that it “can vary person to person” (of course). Others are more realistic “with 1-2 cm achievable” in the first session. To put this in context, the difference in a clothing size is around 2cm. The process will also tighten the areas worked on as the fat cells “shrink away”.

Science does note that LLLT will “give immediate results after one session” with an “average loss of 2.1–2.89cm after 6 treatments”.  Ok slightly different but still not too bad. Research does agree that “this fat reduction technique does help lose volume in those areas that are traditionally much harder to target”.

There are also a few fish hooks that are not so prominently advertised. Those undertaking this need to understand that, according to the science, this is not a process for obese people and “there is no necrosis or apoptosis of adipocytes”. In plain English the science is saying that “the fat cells are not removed or killed off, but are merely induced to release their contents”.

Clinics described the laser treatment as using “thermal energy to destroy adipose tissue” (body fat that stores energy) while sparing other tissues in the body. Accordingly the low level of laser energy “creates a chemical signal” or “induces heat” (depending on which advertising you read) in the fat cells. This “causes the stored triglycerides and glycerol to break down”. Incorrect. Science demonstrates that the LLLT is not based on thermal tissue damage, but rather on “producing temporary microscopic pores in the fat cells that allow lipids to leak out”, in turn, leading to fat reduction.

Some clinics also state that “the fat cells are removed” and will not regenerate with the “damaged fats” being naturally processed and eliminated by the body’s lymphatic system over several months. This is partially true as some cells, in the natural turn of things, will be excreted as they will not be required. Most fat cells are still there however (but empty like deflated balloons) meaning that this could be looked on as a temporary fix compared to, say, Liposuction.

Some clinics advise patients to follow a diet and lifestyle protocol, including increasing water intake, avoidance of caffeine and alcohol, and exercising every day. The research is a bit more blunt – stating that if the client does not undertake a healthier lifestyle, and instead continue to over eat, be a couch potato or imbibe too often, the fat cells will repair and refill. One advertisement covered all bases with the statement – “the results are long-lasting if you follow a good diet and exercise regime following your procedure. However, some patients report that they need follow-up treatments to maintain the result.”

In real life it means that LLLT is ideal for someone who has already made a decision to improve their overall diet and exercise regime with regular exercise and healthy eating as the recurrence of fat deposits is believed to be greater with this treatment compared to other methods.

Once the cells are pierced, the fatty acids and glycerol are transported around the body to the tissues that will use them during metabolism to create energy. Thus the suggestion is that vigorous exercise be undertaken within 12 hours of a treatment to metabolise and “burn” off all that extra energy released into the body.  Few clinics suggested this. Lastly, a study investigating the use of LLLT showed that treatment is most effective when combined with diet and exercise.

One of the advantages of LLLT promoted is the comfort level. This is a cold laser treatment, but not as cold as cryolipolysis (CoolSculpting) and there is minimal noticeable heat generated. Side effects are rare. This is supported by the science where complications of LLLT were described as “fewer and more mild than with all other body contouring procedures”. Several studies reported no adverse effects while a minority reported “swelling or erythema (redness of the skin) at the treatment area, minor pain or tingling during treatment, and increased urination, all of which were temporary and resolved spontaneously”.

The actual process is quite simple. Several “paddles” are secured to the body in the treatment areas to act on the fat beneath the skin for a period of 30 – 40min. Clients undergo six to eight, treatments over between a two to six week period (all again depending on the individual clinic) to achieve optimal results.

Finally, the typical costs range from around $2,000 to under $4,000 for a full package of treatments. That’s a range of $250 – $500 per session. I actually checked out the cost of my Gift and it was only $85 for one treatment! Let the sessions begin!