Vest designed to chill away pounds

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A Southern California researcher has developed a wearable ice vest that could aide in weight loss in patients.

Most people trying to lose weight would expect to break a sweat, but a researcher in Southern California has a different idea. In fact, he recommends chilling out... literally.

As background, Professor Wayne Hayes, Ph.D., points to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who averaged eating 12,000 calories a day and never gained weight. Surprisingly, exercise wasn't the only reason.

"Michael Phelps would need to do about 10 hours of continuous butterfly stroke to burn 12,000 calories a day," Hayes said.

Hayes and his team at the University of California, Irvine believe the extra fat burning was triggered by the chilly temperature of the pool and its effect on a substance in our bodies known as brown fat. To take advantage of the effect, Hayes designed the Cold Shoulder. It's an ice vest developed to help patients lose weight.

"It induces comfortable, mild cold exposure. And our clinical trials suggest that it burns up to 500 calories a day if you wear in twice a day for an hour each," Hayes explained.

Scientists have known for decades that brown fat cells help small mammals like mice keep their body temperature up, by producing heat as they burn calories. The same is true for human babies. Hayes believes lowering body temperature can trigger the same calorie burning mechanism in adults.

"Your body has to maintain 98.6 to be healthy, so your body will go to whatever measures are necessary to keep you at 98.6," he said.

In fact, several major research groups are interested in harnessing the calorie burning power of brown fat.

Sheng Ding, Ph.D., and his team at San Francisco's Gladstone Institutes are searching for a drug that can turn common white fat, which stores energy, into brown fat, which burns it.

"Basically, the brown fat, when activated can burn energy stored in the white fat. That actually has implications for treating obesity or diabetes," Ding said.

He believes a drug to induce that fat burning effect, known as thermogenesis could be on horizon within a decade.

Back at UC Irvine, researchers say they've already documented results from the freeze vest in early trials. Test subject Orin Levy says his ratio of body fat dropped from 15 percent down to 12 percent during the trial.

"I was a little skeptical you know. It was like, where a vest and lose weight. You know, sure," Levy said.

The challenge for most people is being cold for two hours every day. But for the motivated, Hayes points to a colleague who employed even more extreme methods.

"He would drink a gallon of ice water every day. He would take cold baths and cold showers. It was painful, but he basically tripled his rate of weight loss," Hayes said.

A commercial version of the Cold Shoulder vest is now available on the Internet for about $149.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

Related Topics:
healthdietdietingweightweight lossobesityfatresearchOlympicsswimmingmichael phelpsUC Irvinemedical research
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