A Shot to Melt the Fat?
The treatment sounds great, but it's unproven
Corrected 6/20/07. A previous version of this story included an incorrect spelling of phosphatidylcholine.
Want to get rid of your stubborn fat bulges without endless spinning classes or going under the knife? A new fat-fighting procedure billed as liposuction without the risks is fast becoming popular at "rejuvenation clinics" and "medi-spas" throughout the country. Lipodissolve, as it is widely known, entails injecting small amounts of soy lecithin and bile salt directly into problem areas on the hips, waist, thighs, and buttocks, and voilà! the fat supposedly melts away. Sensing the next Botox, doctors from pediatricians to dermatologists have taken a weekend seminar and opened fat-dissolving clinics. "What once was a dream is now a reality," claims the website of LipoNOW clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Expect to lose between 1 to 2 inches of fat with no invasive surgery," promises MedSculpt, a lipodissolve provider in Rockville, Md.
If it sounds too good to be true, that's what the competition thinks. The "body sculpting" procedure, virtually unheard of in the United States two years ago but practiced in Europe for decades, has raised the hackles of plastic surgeons, who argue that removing fat surgically is the proven option. Last month, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery put out a statement saying that the scientific evidence doesn't exist to show that injection fat-loss treatments do any good or that they're safe. Unfortunately, "people often suspend reality when it comes to dealing with fat," says Alan Matarasso, a clinical professor of plastic surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York who has researched the use of injections for dissolving fat.
No question, the injections are stealing business. "You have the perfect storm of desire for a nonsurgical procedure, easy availability, and ads promising painless fat removal," Matarasso says. Since 2005, when it first began offering its Advanced LipoDissolve treatment, the St. Louis-based company fig. (short for figure) has treated more than 11,000 patients at its nine clinics in six states; the company plans to have 20 clinics open by the end of this year, each overseen by a plastic surgeon. AestheticMD, a company that runs training sessions in the procedure, has taught some 2,000 doctors how to perform it since 2003.
Those who've tried the treatment give it mixed reviews. "My size 6 pants were so loose afterward that I had to get them altered. That's how I know it worked," says 32-year-old Noelle Stegmeyer of St. Louis, who spent about $3,500 two years ago to have Advanced LipoDissolve on her thighs and buttocks and was so grateful that she now does free testimonials for fig. By contrast, Angie Ross, 33, is hoping to take advantage of a money-back guarantee. Ross decided to have injections to her abdomen last November, thinking she could avoid the painful two-week recovery that her sister had endured after liposuction. After paying $4,000 and receiving several months of injections, the photographer from Overland Park, Kan., says she experienced abdominal swelling, weight gain, and an allergic reaction that sent her to the emergency room with hives all over her body.