Can You Freeze Off Your Fat?

Cryolipolysis may one day let doctors target fat deposits with freezing cold.

ByABC News
March 21, 2010, 2:40 PM

March 22, 2010— -- For those who spend hours in the gym to burn off fat, the idea may sound counterintuitive. But researchers are investigating the possibility that that applying precise, cold temperatures to those troublesome bulges could actually result in modest fat loss.

In an article published last December in the journal Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, Dr. Mathew Avram, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Dermatology Laser and Cosmetic Center in Boston, conducted a review to help determine whether a device used to cool the skin during dermatological treatments could also effectively reduce fat deposits under the skin.

The idea that applying a precise cold temperature to these fat deposits is an approach that has been explored over the past five years. And according to Avram's review, it holds promise.

The technique "takes advantage of the differential in fat's susceptibility to the cold," Avram said. "Fat freezes at a higher temperature than the rest of the skin does. Thus, at a certain temperature you can freeze the fat, but not harm the skin."

Avram was quick to point out, however, that the results are "not comparable to liposuction, and this is not a weight-loss device." And he said that even though the device used in the technique is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this particular use has not yet earned the FDA's okay -- and thus is not ready for public consumption.

But in terms of safety, Avram said, "At this point, these studies seem to be reassuring."

Santa Monica-based cosmetic surgeon Dr. Mark Berman, president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, agreed that the technique appears to hold promise for fat reduction.

"The good news is that there does not seem to be any problem caused when the body is reabsorbing the [fat]; there are no demonstrable changes in liver function," he said. "I can see this becoming another dermatologic weapon. This is going to be a nice little device."

However, cosmetic surgery experts also said that if widely adopted, the technique will join other minimally invasive fat busting techniques in a growing and competitive field.