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Fat-Busting Injections Under Scrutiny

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

Mesotherapy and Fat-Dissolving Injections: What You Should Know continued...

He also cautions that the "consumer definition" of mesotherapy narrows down the term to mean an injection that melts fat -- now loosely referred to in the media and advertising by the trademarked name Lipodissolve.

The differences, however, are important. While mesotherapy studies abound, there have been no double-blind, published, peer-reviewed medical studies conducted specifically on fat-melting injections -- something doctors say leaves us with little or no information on how they really work.

"We know, for example, that these injections do liquefy fat, but what we don't know is where it goes or how the body deals with it, and if there are any long- or short-term dangers associated with treatment," says Ellen Marmur, MD, chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Among the possibilities, she says, is that the liquefied fat is filtered through the liver -- which, she says, might contribute to a fatty liver. Another possibility is that it ends up in the kidneys, or more likely, says Marmur, in the blood vessels, where it could create or add to existing fatty plaque, thus increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

"At this point, we really don't know for certain where the fat goes because there have been no direct studies of liquefying fat and its potential for long-term harm," says Marmur.

And while proponents of the procedure report that patient follow-ups have not yielded any significant changes in lipid profiles, Marmur points out that most, if not all, of this information is anecdotal. "Until it's proven in a clinical trial, we can't bank on it as fact," she says.

Where the fat goes may only be the tip of the hypodermic when it comes to potential problems with this treatment. Another issue of concern: the risk of infection and some serious consequences.

"The threat of infection is very real. Whenever you are dealing with an injectable substance, sterility is a major issue, and if this treatment is not being done in a doctor's office, which many of them are not, then I would worry," says Goldberg.

The Fat-Melting Recipe: Under Fire

But it's not just the procedure that has some doctors worried. For some, a lack of control over the substances used to melt the fat is of equal or greater concern.

Currently, the most common fat-melting cocktail is PCDC, a mixture of a soybean derivative known as phosphatidylcholine, and a bile salt known as deoxycholate. 

PCDC itself has not been approved as a fat-busting injection -- or anything else. Instead, those performing the treatment are forced to have it manufactured at a compounding pharmacy, a type of drugstore that makes medicines from scratch via a doctor's prescription. Some see this as the weakest link in the treatment chain.

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