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Medicine | THE HEALTHY SKEPTIC

Zap away body fat? If only it were that easy

LipoZap promises to whittle away inches without surgery. But the technique hasn't been subjected to scientific scrutiny.

March 19, 2007|Chris Woolston | Special to The Times

I've been hearing about a treatment called LipoZap. Does it work? I have a problem with fat around my midsection.

JOHN M.

Tujunga

The product: Imagine the uproar if someone discovered a treatment that quickly removed large amounts of fat without effort, sacrifice or surgery of any sort. You'd expect dancing in the streets. Fireworks. And a few billion dollars in sales.

Enter LipoZap, a procedure that can supposedly "zap inches off your hips, thighs, abdomen or wherever you want -- without surgery!" Despite a bombardment of ads on L.A.-area radio stations, LipoZap has yet to make its mark on the wider world. Although it relies on techniques used in many other spas and cosmetic doctor offices, the treatment is only available, for now, at the Sherman Oaks Galleria.

Dr. Kent Takemoto, president of MedAesthetica, the company behind LipoZap, says he doesn't want to divulge too many details but is willing to say that LipoZap combines two processes. Patients are treated with a VelaSmooth machine, a widely used anti-cellulite device that uses massage, infrared heat and radio frequency waves to break down fat cells under the skin. Registered nurses also give patients injections of the "fat-dissolving medicine" phosphatidylcholine. (Injecting fat-reducing chemicals, a process called "mesotherapy," is catching on at some spas and clinics.)

The average customer has four sessions. Several thousand patients have already had the procedure, Takemoto says. He declined to specify cost but said it was significantly cheaper than liposuction.

The claims: Takemoto says the average patient can trim 4 inches from the waist and 2 inches from each thigh. (The website calls the results "moderately dramatic," possibly breaking new ground in the world of oxymorons.)

The right type of patient, he says, would be one who can't seem to lose stubborn rolls of fat despite diet and exercise. The company turns away anyone with a BMI of more than 30.

About 5% of patients who undergo the procedure fail to lose much fat, Takemoto says. In such cases, the company offers a full refund.

Bottom line: If LipoZap does turn out to be a fat-removal breakthrough, Dr. Peter Fodor, an L.A. plastic surgeon and past president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, would be surprised. "It's extremely suspicious," he says.

The VelaSmooth treatment -- offered at many day spas and dermatologist offices -- may temporarily reduce cellulite, but there's no evidence that it can trim inches from the waistline, he says. And, he adds, injections of "fat-dissolving" medicines have a long history of failure.

Dr. Karen Kim, a dermatologist with a practice in New York City, says she sees "red flags" in the LipoZap approach: "There's no medical literature on this, and it hasn't been presented at any scientific meetings. If it's so wonderful, why hasn't it gone through the normal channels?"

In 2006, Kim published a study showing that it's possible to "zap" away small pockets of fat using laser probes inserted through small incisions. She says that every widely accepted method for rapid fat removal requires at least a few incisions, and that while some investigators have tried to use external lasers or ultrasound to blast fat, results are unimpressive.

Takemoto attributes such criticism to "turf wars" and brings Albert Einstein to his defense: "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."

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