Lipo alternative freezes away love handles

February 16, 2010 5:54:58 PM PST
A new alternative to liposuction is being tested in the Bay Area. The treatment targets are small areas of fat, but unlike liposuction, there are no incisions.

The new method uses something called cryolipolysis and it involves basically freezing fat. The skin is not damaged by the cold temperatures, but the layer of fat below the skin is, the fat cells in the layer below the skin die off over the course of a couple of months.

By most standards, San Francisco real estate agent Michael Hirner has a fairly chiseled physique, unless you ask him.

Since regular workouts have not melted his love handles, Hirner has decided to freeze them instead.

"Yes, you can call it freezing fat, but what it's doing, its technical name is apoptosis, which is if you apply cold selectively, it destroys the fat cells, then your body eliminates them gradually," Dr. Vic Narurkar said.

At his office at California Pacific Medical Center, Narkurkar places a vacuum cleaner-like attachment on Hirner's back. It is not liposuction, but an investigational device called Zeltiq. The vacuum pulls the fatty area into the housing slightly larger than a cube of butter.

"The first thing people describe is somebody gave them a giant hickey, because the first thing they feel is the vacuum," Narurkar said.

Early trials have shown the treatment decreases fat by a little more than 20 percent in the targeted area, according to the company. But they are still waiting for FDA approval to market it for fat reduction.

When the treatment is over, Hirner is left with what amounts to a raised welt of frozen fat.

But the welt quickly recedes over the course of several minutes and the dead cells are eventually flushed out by the body.

Hirner says he has already noticed results from an earlier treatment he had several weeks ago on the other side of his waist.

"On my waistline, my belt is definitely looser, definitely space," he said.

Doctors say the technology will work best for those in relatively good shape. It will not lead to any significant weight loss, but some fat reduction in targeted areas. The cost is about $500 per treatment.

Written and produced by Tim Didion