You may have heard about one of the newest crazes in plastic surgery called lipo-dissolve. This is not to be confused with the tried and true mechanism of fat removal called liposuction. While both of these methods remove unwanted fat in “problem” areas of the human body, they are distinctly different in mechanism, side effects, safety and FDA approval status.
Liposuction was originated by a French physician and became increasingly popular in the eighties and nineties. The procedure can be done in a plastic surgeon’s office and does not typically require a hospital stay.
A liposuction patient has their “problem” area properly marked, sterilized with Betadine and is given a local anesthetic or complete anesthesia. The physician takes a small stick-like suction device called a cannula and removes the unwanted fat in the designated problem area. The fat is literally vacuumed out by the cannula while the patient’s vital signs are continuously monitored. This usually involves an infusion of fluids into the marked area of fat removal to help loosen the fat cells while keeping the patient’s fluid balance in check. This type of procedure is known as a wet or super wet and is more commonly used.
Liposuction is an approved method of cosmetic surgery by the federal Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., also known as the FDA. The fat removal procedure is not intended to replace diet and exercise and is limited in the amount of fat that is removed. Typically, liposuction does not remove more than five liters of fat per patient. The greater the amount of fat that is removed the greater amount of risk is involved.
Unlike liposuction, the new fad of lipo-dissolve is not approved by the FDA. This form of fat removal has been around for a significantly less amount of time and has had no sustaining clinical trials to prove its safety or long-term effects. Additionally, Kansas has attempted to pass legislation barring its physicians from giving PC/DC injections, the standard lipo-dissolve treatment. A Kansas court, however, blocked the legislation from taking effect while the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts solicits public opinion and holds further discussion on the merits and dangers of this currently unapproved therapy.
Lipo-dissolve businesses claim that the procedure is another way to remove fat from “problem” areas. But unlike the invasive liposuction procedure, it involves injections to kill the fat cells, or as some lipo-dissolve ads claim “melt the fat away.” The injections can consist of various concoctions that can kill fat cells and most doctors urge patients to learn what is in the syringe before they agree to a lipo-dissolve injection. The most common formula used for injections is a combination of phosphatidylcholine and sodium deoxycholate (PC/DC). Most of these injections are taken as a series requiring multiple injections for one area. It is important to note that the FDA has repeatedly issued statements that “Consumers need to know that this is a buyer-beware situation. These are unapproved drugs for unapproved uses and we can’t guarantee consumers’ safety.”
The amount of fat that is removed with the injections is markedly smaller than the amount removed from a liposuction procedure but many people are finding that the injections are a nice alternative to the more aggressive liposuction.
There have been many positive results reported from people who have taken the injections, but concerns remain over its safety. Dr. Michael Olding, Chief of Plastic Surgery at George Washington University, stated on a program about lipo-dissolve for the Washington Post, “My problem with the technique [lipo-dissolve] is that its safety and effectiveness has not been investigated thoroughly enough.” Leading medical societies agree and have issued warnings to patients about the use of it.
Both procedures offer individuals an opportunity to sculpt their fat but neither one should be considered as a form of weight loss remedy.