The Liposuction promise: Getting the skinny on fat

BY JENNIFER WALDEN

09.02.12 | 12:45 pm

Culture Map Austin

Austin Photo: Author_Jennifer Walden 2Let’s face it, we Americans tend to obsess over our weight and our figure, or to put it bluntly, fat. 

Since making its debut in North America 30 years ago, liposuction has promised to permanently remove excess fat from stubborn areas (unless one experienced a major weight gain).

New research reveals liposuction lives up to its promise: According to a recent study published in The Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, fat cells neither return to treated areas nor get redistributed to untreated areas of the body after liposuction.

The new study refutes a report published in 2011 in the journal Obesity, which said that fat often returns to untreated areas of the body, especially the abdomen, shoulders, and arms within one year after liposuction.

Its value is in permanently reducing the number of fat cells in problem areas for individuals who are at or near their ideal body weight but have trouble getting rid of stubborn isolated pockets of fat despite a thousand crunches.

In a follow-up article, the New York Times featured a caricature of a distorted woman, looking trim in the lower body but looking like the Incredible Hulk in the upper body. The cartoon was widely publicized on the web, but is an inaccurate rendition of what one may look like after liposuction and subsequent weight gain.

It is important to know that liposuction does not work miracles, does not change your ability to gain or lose weight and that diet and exercise are recommended after the procedure to keep the fat off. 

Its value is in permanently reducing the number of fat cells in problem areas for individuals who are at or near their ideal body weight but have trouble getting rid of stubborn isolated pockets of fat despite a thousand crunches. It is nice to know that for any given weight you may be in the future, your proportions will be better after liposuction, barring major fluctuations in weight.

According to statistics provided by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, liposuction has been among the top five most popular cosmetic surgical procedures since 1992; last year, nearly 205,000 liposuction procedures were performed.

What about the relatively new laser liposuction procedures that have gained traction within that past few years?  With laser-assisted liposuction, a laser probe is inserted into the target area through a small incision, which the surgeon aims at fatty tissue, rupturing the fat cells. The laser is then directed toward the skin layer to stimulate these cells in order to achieve a purported “tightening” of the skin; fat and disrupted tissue is then liposuctioned out using the traditional technique.

Laser liposuction has received significant media attention as a popular “fat-melting” treatment with a celebrity following. However, initial data shows this procedure is no better than traditional liposuction. So if you are considering a new type of liposuction procedure, be sure and ask about long-term results and possible complications and look at how long that technology or device has been on the market in the United States.

Looking for a quick fix without having to go under the knife? The demand for non-invasive aesthetic treatments has increased dramatically in the past few years. In 2011, over 12 million minimally invasive cosmetic procedures were performed in the USA alone, accounting for the majority of procedures performed.

Let’s take a look at a few non-invasive fat reducing procedures that are making us all consider, ahem, a few more visits to the doctor this year:

Cellulite is mainly caused by genetic factors outside of our own control. Many believe it’s a fat problem, which can be addressed through diet and exercise, but that isn’t necessarily so.

The Venus Freeze® is a patented technology that combines multi-polar radiofrequency (RF) with pulsed magnetic fields. These two types of energy work in synergy to effect skin tightening and moderate fat reduction. The results for this pain-free noninvasive technology are promising and this machine has been used successfully outside the United States for years.

A relatively new fat freezing procedure (otherwise known as cryolipolysis) is called CoolSculpting® by Zeltiq. This technique freezes fat cells by the application of a noninvasive device to your skin. It is known to be a bit painful, so brace yourself, but can also be effective after multiple treatments.

Ultrasound fat reduction techniques such Liposonix® and UltraShape® are both in development and Liposonix® is the only one currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These are ultrasound-based body sculpting devices that may offer some patients a non-surgical alternative to traditional suction-based liposuction. In both techniques, ultrasound is administered via an external device. The excess fat targeted by the ultrasound is destroyed and then naturally absorbed and removed by the body.

Data from studies on these devices has shown that this ultrasonic technology produces measurable reductions in the circumference of treatment areas, no serious adverse events and high patient satisfaction with minimal to no pain or discomfort. This technique is still being refined and improved for more consistent results.

Ultrasound, fat freezing, and radio-frequency devices may provide convenience for patients who don’t want surgery or invasive treatment for contouring of the abdomen, flanks and thighs. But these procedures do have limitations in the amount of fat reduction and body contouring that can be achieved; traditional liposuction is still considered the gold standard for a permanent and relatively quick means of fat removal all other things being considered.

In general, the success of any body contouring technique requires selecting the right treatment for the right patient and making sure the patient has realistic expectations.

So what about that pesky problem called cellulite? Cellulite is mainly caused by genetic factors outside of our own control. Many believe it’s a fat problem, which can be addressed through diet and exercise, but that isn’t necessarily so. Cellulite is a structural problem below the skin caused by the way the dermis, or undersurface of the skin, attaches to underlying structures with fat in between the fibers causing dimpling.  A popular new treatment Cellulaze® is currently the only treatment that attacks the structural problems beneath the skin that cause cellulite.

A minimally invasive, laser-assisted procedure, Cellulaze® is a new anti-cellulite treatment that aims to increase the skin’s natural thickness and disrupt the fibers and fat causing dimples for a smoother look that lasts. Preliminary studies are promising for this new technology; we’ll know more about it’s long term effectiveness as time goes on.

If you are interesting in a consultation for liposuction or body contouring with Dr. Jennifer Walden, visit her Map Details page here.

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