Does lunchtime liposuction really work?

Can you really get slim with the latest fat-blasting technology? Here's what happened when one writer put lunchtime liposuction to the test

By Patricia Pearson

Does lunchtime liposuction really work?

Liposuction. To me it seems so radical. Going under general anesthetic while someone hoovers fat from my stomach simply isn’t on my to-do list. It’s not worth the risk, which, albeit rare, is very real. My children would prefer a plump hen for a mother rather than no mother at all.

What if liposuction were non-invasive, though, and required no scalpel? This possibility was brought to my attention recently by some Canadian doctors who have acquired new technologies that destroy fat cells via ultrasound waves and other intriguing methods. According to Toronto cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Nowell Solish, who uses an ultrasound machine called LipoSonix, as word of these alternatives gets out, “the fat-melting market is going to explode.” 

Wow. What an image.

The technology: LipoSonix

To explain what he meant, Solish had me come by his office to learn more about LipoSonix. The machine looks sort of like a robot on wheels with a robotic arm. The arm part focuses high-intensity ultrasound waves targeted at your abdominal area to effectively super-heat and mortally injure the fat cells, according to Solish.

And voila! The manufacturer’s slogan is “One Hour. One Treatment. One Dress Size.” I didn’t try it, but Solish explained that it kills as many fat cells in the area as possible, enabling you to shrink about two centimetres, or “one dress size.” Not instantly: It takes up to 12 weeks to see the difference. But later, if you gain weight, the fat cannot go to that body part again, ever; it has to distribute itself elsewhere. (Hopefully not to your chin. Then you’d look like a slender-bellied Jay Leno.) You cannot kill off all of your fat cells because your body would be at its wits’ end as to where to store fat, which is needed for survival. As such, ultrasonic liposuction isn’t recommended as a treatment for obesity.

Instead, the ideal candidate is someone like Pilates instructor Dita Florence, a 44-year-old mother of three whom I met in Solish’s office after she’d had her treatment. Florence had had a troublesome little pouch on her stomach, which couldn’t be vanquished by exercise, zapped. “I had never considered liposuction,” she told me, but the prospect of a procedure that was brief and non-surgical, and with no scarring or other permanent effects on the skin, attracted her. 

Florence was about seven tons slimmer than me—I’m a size 14—so the effect of LipoSonix, something she described as feeling “prickly,” was to smooth her figure. She looked perfectly grand in a clingy dress when I met her.

The technology: UltraShape

Dr. Philip Kritzinger, a phlebologist in Newmarket, Ont., prefers using a device called UltraShape that causes sound waves to shake fat cells to death. Kritzinger invited me to try the treatment, which requires one to six sessions, depending on how much fat you’re having killed. All I had to decide was what part of my body to target. Kritzinger’s assistant, Therese, had me disrobe on the day of my appointment, then prodded my midsection as if assessing a loaf of bread. “What bothers you the most?” Therese asked in her warm Scottish brogue. How about everything? We decided to target my “love handles.” One can only winnow a few centimetres—two per treatment, on average—with UltraShape, so the effect would be most noticeable in an area where I had the least flab to begin with. 

“You’ll see it in how your pants fit,” she predicted. She led me to a mini photo studio at the clinic and had me stand on a box while she snapped some “before” photos. I just couldn’t bring myself to look at them. Vanity may prod us to get these procedures done, but they also flatline your ego.

Next, Therese took me into an examining room and had me lie face down on a bed while she slathered my lower back with mineral oil and chatted about going to a Lionel Richie concert for her wedding anniversary. This was to be, literally, the warm-up treatment before the UltraShape, using a machine called the Accent, both of which are manufactured in Israel. The Accent emits radio waves via a small paddle that Therese proceeded to rub along my back. It made my skin feel steam-room hot. 

“The Accent creates a thermal effect that is supposedly synergistic to the ultrasound waves,” Kritzinger had explained. “We have only just started combining the two, so I have no idea how well it works. I do know that the heat created by the Accent is enough to injure and shrink fat cells, but it doesn’t kill them.” (That’s UltraShape’s job.)

After 15 minutes, Therese stopped working on me with her paddle and took me into a second examining room, where she proceeded to bunch my love handles in between strips of surgical tape so that my flesh would stay obediently still during the treatment. (Don’t try to picture this. But trust me that peeling off that tape two hours later was the least fun I’ve had since I sat in a patch of nettles. Happily, it was over with very quickly.)

Once I had been suitably trussed, I lay on a bed on my side, with my legs bent. Therese covered the taped area with gel and scooted the ultrasound disc around, pausing at select target points on my body that were dictated to her by a computer. “UltraShape uses a frequency that causes resonance in the fat cells,” Kritzinger had said. “Cells are basically shaken to pieces.”

Side effects of UltraShape

And what do cells being shaken to pieces feel like? Something like a battery jolt, which you get to experience roughly 300 times in a row. Very weird, but not painful. One potential side effect? When the sonic waves come close to the hip bone, they bounce back and collide with other waves and create excess vibration. According to Kritzinger, for one in a thousand cases this results in a skin blister. In my case it merely caused a serious amount of butt-clenching. “Here comes a nasty one,” Therese would warn. (It may have been coincidence that I had some back spasms for the next few days, but I think it was a result of my clenching. So when I go for my next treatment, I’ll warm up and stretch first. Maybe even swallow a pre-emptive muscle relaxant.)

Having arrived at the clinic at 9:30 a.m., I was out by noon, with instructions to drink lots of water and keep to a low-carb diet for at least four days. This, Kritzinger said, was to facilitate the flushing out of zapped cells.

Does "lunchtime liposuction" really work?

All in all, it was a pretty benign experience compared to the potentially risky surgical liposuction. But does it work? At the time of writing this article it was too early to tell; I have yet to get my second treatment. I’ll report back on that next month. I’ll also be rounding up other new forms of non-invasive liposuction available in Canada, and will look into the science—and the cost. Stay tuned!

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10 hot new beauty trends for spring 2010

This article was originally titled "Fat be gone?" in the May 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—and never miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what's new in the latest issue of Best Health.

Best Health Magazine, May 2010

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