2 new devices offer painless way to zap fat

Love handles, beware. Two new fat-blasting devices being used by doctors in North Texas promise to zap that extra blubber from waists, hips and thighs.

Zerona does it by shrinking fat cells, Zeltiq by freezing them.

For Lisa Belzer of Hurst, Zerona did the trick, shrinking her dress size from a 10 to an 8.

"It's painless. It's easy. You lose inches and it's not surgery," she said.

Zerona uses a laser to target fat cells, causing them to collapse.

The body then disposes of the fat naturally through absorption or excretion, according to Dr. Jeffrey Kenkel, vice chairman of plastic surgery and director of the Clinical Center for Cosmetic Laser Treatment at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Like Zerona, Zeltiq eliminates fat cells from the body, but instead of a laser, an applicator cools the cells without injuring the skin.

Both Zerona and Zeltiq sculpt the body, but they're not for people with a lot of weight to lose. Patients who opt for Zerona typically undergo six 40-minute sessions over two weeks. In Dallas and Fort Worth, the cost for six treatments ranges from $1,300 to $2,500. Zeltiq costs about $1,500 to $3,000.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Zerona in August and gave the manufacturer permission to market it as a "noninvasive dermatological aesthetic reduction in circumference of hips, waist and thighs." Zeltiq was approved in October.

Other body-slimming techniques have been used for years -- including acoustic wave therapy, which uses vibrations to break up fat cells, and endermologie, which suctions and massages the skin to reduce cellulite. But noninvasive fat zappers such as Zerona are a new approach.

Zerona will never replace liposuction but is an alternative for patients who are close to their ideal weight and just want to get rid of localized fat, Kenkel said.

"I tell patients that it is not like you'll see this dramatic change," he said. "But you will notice that when you put on jeans they'll fit a little better."

Most patients lose 1 to 11/2 inches from their waist.

Belzer, who works as a medical photographer at UT Southwestern and agreed to test the device, lost 61/4 inches and about 10 pounds.

Zeltiq is good at getting rid of love handles and tummy bulges, which are always the most frustrating for women to lose, said Dr. Angela Bowers-Plott, a Southlake dermatologist. The procedure results in about a 20 percent reduction in fat in the treated area.

"We've had good feedback from patients," she said. "It's really exciting to find something that is completely noninvasive and safe."

The Zerona apparatus looks like a giant spider hanging over the patient's body. Patients lie on their stomachs for 20 minutes, then flip over while the laser is waved over them. There are no injections or cutting, just relaxation during the treatment, Belzer said.

"You don't feel a thing," she said. "I slept through the whole process."

Zeltiq is also painless, but it's a one-treatment procedure that takes about two hours. The only side effect is skin numbness that lasts two to six weeks, Bowers-Plott said.

Dr. Jeannine Hoang, a Mansfield dermatologist, said Zeltiq is clinically proven to reduce fat by 20 to 25 percent.

"There's scientific data supporting that it actually works," she said.

It is FDA-approved for sculpting love handles and the lower abdomen, but it is being tested on other areas as well, Hoang said.

Results can be seen within three weeks, but it takes two to four months for a dramatic change in appearance.

Belzer said that people noticed a difference almost immediately and that she has kept the weight off through exercise and diet.

"I do look good in my clothes," said Belzer, 45. "But I work at it."

Without exercising regularly and following a healthful diet, people treated with Zerona will gain the weight back. How quickly that happens is a matter of how many calories they consume versus how many they burn. Zerona treatments can be repeated, however.

Body contouring is the latest use for low-level lasers, which have long been used to relieve joint pain, Kenkel said.

Zerona and Zeltiq are expected to become popular choices for those who want a nonsurgical way to fight fat.

"It's just the beginning of what we'll be seeing in the next couple of years," Kenkel said.

Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664