Fat melting with low level laser therapy (LLLT) - an urban myth exposed
Low level laser therapy (LLLT) "fat melting" treatments have been all the rage a few years ago, promising to burn fat and help you lose local fat.
However, when people realised that this technology simply "does not work", prices for these treatments have reached rock bottom, and the only way to sell such treatments now is via deals websites, such as Groupon at 1/10 of the original price.
The only thing that LLLT achieves is some temporary water retention reduction, which providers of these treatments call "weight loss", "inch loss" or "fat loss", where it is simply temporary lymphatic drainage, for which LLLT is indeed helpful.
The whole non-surgical "laser liposuction" industry has been based on a couple of dubious studies published a decade ago, which laser experts identified as simply fake. And reality has indeed shown that there is no way the results described in those studies are real.
My LLLT experiment
Theorising that it may be the low energy of those systems that was responsible for the lack of results (some of them use as little as 300 mW of total power on the whole body, which is pathetically little), I have trialled a powerful 12W system (12,000 mW) on a small skin area, as opposed to treating the entire body with the usual 300 mW systems people have "laser lipo" treatments with.
After 12 sessions, the result was that fat actually marginally increased by the treatment on the treated areas. This makes sense considering that this kind of laser therapy actually heals tissues and stimulates growth - it does not cause tissue destruction such as "liquefaction of fat" that "laser lipo" clinics claim. So the laser simply "healed" the fat tissue, making it more effective in storing fat. Great...
LLLT boosts whole body metabolism, but also local fat accumulation!
Now a study published two days ago, has looked into the whole LLLT "laser fat melting" issue using subcutaneous abdominal fat imaging on a large number of patients. For the study, 17 subjects were treated with a 650nm laser, on one side of the abdomen, with the other side used as a control.
After six sessions spread over two weeks - and a two-week post-treatment period - the results were exactly the same as those of my much smaller trial: NO spot fat reduction. In fact, when the control side was taken into account it was found that in 8 out of 17 subjects there was a relative increase in fat thickness, instead of a decrease!
This can be explained as follows: the whole body underwent some small fat/weight loss, most probably due to metabolism improvement. However, the treated areas actually experienced a decreased fat reduction, i.e. the actual treatment areas resisted fat loss - most probably due to the healing / tissue stimulating effect of low level laser therapy.
In summary, according to this study, LLLT therapy improves whole body metabolism but actually inhibits fat loss on the areas where it is applied - and it may even stimulate fat gain on those areas.
This practically means that by using whole body LLLT in order to marginally "lose weight", you will have to cope with the increase of superficial fat on the whole body - i.e. you may end up losing just visceral fat, which is not directly exposed to the laser beam and is not stimulated to grow by LLLT, as superficial fat does.
Clearly more work is needed on this subject to clarify this issue, but in the meantime the wise thing to do is to avoid LLLT "fat melting" treatments, simply because everyday experience has shown that they just "don't work".
- Paper: Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) does not reduce subcutaneous adipose tissue by local adipocyte injury but rather by modulation of systemic lipid metabolism
- Abstract: Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) has been applied recently to body contouring. However the mechanism of LLLT-induced reduction of subcutaneous adipose tissue thickness has not been elucidated and proposed hypotheses are highly controversial. Non-obese volunteers were subject to 650nm LLLT therapy. Each patient received 6 treatments 2-3 days apart to one side of the abdomen. The contralateral side was left untreated and served as control. Subjects' abdominal adipose tissue thickness was measured by ultrasound imaging at baseline and 2 weeks post-treatment. Our study is to the best of our knowledge, the largest split-abdomen study employing subcutaneous abdominal fat imaging. We could not show a statistically significant reduction of abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue by LLLT therapy. Paradoxically when the measurements of the loss of fat thickness on treated side was corrected for change in thickness on non treated side, we have observed that in 8 out of 17 patients LLLT increased adipose tissue thickness. In two patients severe side effect occurred as a result of treatment: one patient developed ulceration within appendectomy scar, the other over the posterior superior iliac spine. The paradoxical net increase in subcutaneous fat thickness observed in some of our patients is a rationale against liquefactive and transitory pore models of LLLT-induced adipose tissue reduction. LLLT devices with laser diode panels applied directly on the skin are not as safe as devices with treatment panels separated from the patient's skin.