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Fat-Busting Injections Under Scrutiny

Controversy surrounds a treatment that promises to dissolve fat with a series of injections.

WebMD Feature

What if you could banish forever those jiggly thighs, bumpy upper arms, double chin -- even your muffin top -- with just a few simple injections?

That's the promise of a type of mesotherapy treatment known as lipolysis, also known under the trademarked name of Lipodissolve.

Utilizing a chemical cocktail and a series of between four and 10 injections, experts say it can literally melt a certain degree of fat from anywhere on the body it accumulates -- at a cost of between $150 and $800 per body part. And at least some medi-spas and salons offering the promise appear to be thriving.

"The truth is these injections can work -- but at the moment, not without significant concerns," says David Goldberg, MD, director of Skin Laser and Surgery Specialists of New York and New Jersey, and one of the few doctors to have been involved in small clinical trial of the procedure.

Reports of complications with fat-busting injections have included infection, disfigurement, inflammation, and tissue death. Additionally, a lack of credible research on the effects of fat-busting injections and associated side effects has already led to the treatment being banned in Brazil. For the same reason, both England and Germany have severely curtailed the promotion of these treatments.

In the U.S., the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) warned consumers against their use, citing unknown safety data and a potentially high rate of complications. Also, the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts issued temporary restrictions on the use of the fat-melting Lipodissolve injections in December 2007.

Many doctors agree with the precautions.

"These are uncharted waters with an untested, unproven treatment. And while it may one day prove safe and effective, right now we don't know that, and until we do, having this treatment means you are taking a very big chance that you could regret," says Rhoda Narins, MD, professor of dermatology at NYU Medical Center in New York City.

At the same time, treatments in the U.S. and abroad are flourishing, not only in medi-spas and salons, but in doctors' offices as well. A safety data survey of some 75 doctors from 17 countries published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal in 2006 reports the vast majority of treatments performed are safe and effective.

So who's right? Before you can make that decision, it's important to understand a little more about what mesotherapy is, how fat-dissolving injections work, and what exactly we do and don't know about this treatment.

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