If I get a penny for every relative who asks me about cosmetic, non-surgical ways to get a smaller waistline, I will probably be $10 richer. Okay, that’s not much, but you get the picture: Everyone wants to know about non-invasive alternatives to liposuction, such as ultrasonic lipo-cavitation and external cryogenic treatment of fat.
Do they really work? After several sessions, will you see results that even your friends will notice? Or will availing of such treatments be a waste of money?
Liposuction Alternatives: Why People Want Them
I have a confession to make: My quest for evidence to support the effectiveness (and cost-effectiveness) of “non-invasive liposuction” is partly personal.
I used to be really skinny. I used to weigh 95 pounds – and my friends usually think I’m “lucky” while my parents usually think they’re not feeding me enough. I never gave it much thought; weight was never an issue to me because it posed no personal problem.
But things changed over time. Although I still seem lanky, I’m much heavier now. I love my weight now – I’m no longer “underweight”, hurray! – but it comes at a price: I can no longer wear the clothes in my closet.
Considering I’m of a very healthy weight that’s within the normal range, I can just imagine how difficult it must be for overweight and obese people. When I started working in clinics, not a week passed without at least one patient asking me about how to get rid of abdominal fat.
It was time to look for evidence (or the lack thereof).
Alternatives to Liposuction: The Evidence
One rather popular alternative to liposuction involves ultrasound waves. It has many names: cavitation liposuction, lipo-cavitation, and ultrasonic liposuction, to name just a few.
According to the illustration below, lipo-cavitation involves the delivery of ultrasonic waves that “separate” fat cells for removal. (Medical literature indicates that ultrasonic waves in effective cavitation treatments lead to “bursting” of fat cells.)
The above procedure is not necessarily the same as hydrolipoclasy because of one important reason: hydrolipoclasy involves the introduction of a unique solution that causes cells to burst. (In plain lipo-cavitation, no such invasive technique is required.)
Another treatment that involves ultrasound waves is external ultrasound-assisted liposuction (external UAL). In this procedure, hydrolipoclasy is followed by actual invasive liposuction, thus its name.
In external UAL, 3-Watt ultrasound waves at a 3-MHz frequency are enough to destroy fat cells and collagenous networks, according to a study on the histologic effects of ultrasound lipectomy. However, machines that do not offer the same strength or frequency of ultrasound waves will not promise the same results.
Ultrasonic Cavitation: The Verdict
Unfortunately, not enough evidence is present to support the effectiveness of ultrasonic treatment without the introduction of a fluid into the target fat layer. I have yet to find peer-reviewed studies pointing to its effectiveness.
Although I can’t declare that ultrasonic cavitation doesn’t work, I can say with confidence that the evidence that exists is just not adequate. More studies, specifically peer-reviewed ones, need to be published before plain ultrasonic treatment alone (even that with adequate ultrasound frequency) can be deemed just as effective as its counterparts, namely hydrolipoclasy and external UAL.
Dr. Stef dela Cruz writes about cancer, weight loss, and other health issues. She uses both stethoscope and pen to help patients achieve optimum health. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter; she is perennially online.