In my recent research on spot reduction I came across an article by dr. Lonnie Lowery. In this article, dated 2nd January 2011, the American doctor explains the scientific reasons and the practical applications to achieve localized loss of weight. Special emphasis is given to blood circulation and the body temperature of the critical areas.

If we touch the fatter area of our body and we use a thermographic plate which shows the body temperature by means of the difference in colour, we will realize that the fatter areas are colder, too. This is due to the fact that there is less circulation in those areas. According to science, the blood flux is fundamental for fat extraction (Frayne 1998,1999). Scarce blood flux in some areas of the body corresponds to scarce fat decrease in those areas. As pointed out by the researcher K. Frayne (Nutrition Society Proceedings): “There is proof that the blood flux in the adipose tissue does not increase enough to allow the distribution of all the fatty acids released in systemic circulation”. This process can actually be seen thanks to techniques such as microdialysis, which consists in the introduction of microtubes inside subcutaneous fat areas, such as the lower part of the stomach, in order to measure the products of fat cutting down – as glycerol and fatty acids – in the interstitial fluid. An increase in the blood flux in that area corresponds to an increase in localized fat loss (as long as the hormonal environment is regular).

According to a study carried out quite recently, the blood flux and lipolysis are generally higher in the subcutaneous adipose tissue adjacent to the contracted muscle (Stallknecht, 2007). In conclusion, acute exercise sessions can provoke localized lipolysis and the increase of blood flux in the adipose tissue adjacent to the contracted skeletal muscle.

According to another study, there are well-documented regional variations in lipolysis: “The subcutaneous abdominal deposits have an intermediate turnover, while the gluteal-femoral deposits present a relatively slow turnover”. Yet, through localised training it is possible to have an impact on obstinate areas.

The method

According to Lowery, cardio training on an empty stomach is the ideal condition to achieve localised loss of weight. As noted by an Oxford study, “In the adipose tissue the flux of fatty acids through a cellular membrane is bidirectional. It goes outward during net fat mobilization, such as on an empty stomach or when doing exercise, while it goes inward in the postprandial period (immediately after eating)” (Frayne, 1998). Another research carried out by Moro and coll. (Obesity, Silver Spring, 2007) concludes: “Lipid mobilization is less based on the stimulation depending on the catecholamines (for example adrenalin) of beta-adrenergic receptors than on insulin decrease in plasma”. Others have underlined that the consumption of carbohydrates before training and insulin certainly inhibit fat reduction or fat “burning” to a certain extent in optimal moderate training (Lowery, 2004; Turcotte, 1999).

Timing is fundamental. Therefore, when the hormonal state contributes to fat reduction – for example on an empty stomach – it will be the right time to train the muscles adjacent to the critical area. Another fundamental precondition is to keep warm the area of fat accumulation, because the heating effect and the related increase of blood flux favour localized lipolysis. This effect can be achieved by using neoprene belts or bands. However, they must not be too tight-fitting, otherwise they may have a vasoconstrictive effect, reducing blood circulation.

Honestly, when reading the 2011 article by Lowery, I was pleased to find confirmation of the same concepts I had already stated in 1997. Moreover, I found some interesting ideas. I had already given a lot of importance to the circulation factor, while I had not taken much into consideration the synergy of the thermal effect, due to evaluations on the thermogenic effect of fat burning aiming at the production of heat. That is, if the environmental temperature is lower, the body produces more heat in order to keep its temperature. This production of heat is caused by fat burning at mitochondrial level. We burn more fat by running naked in the snow (exposing ourselves to pneumonia, too) than covered in wind-jackets and neoprene clothes. For this reason I had never been particularly convinced of the use of the so-called slimming girdles: in my opinion they are above all responsible for higher loss of water through sweat, which is then easily restored.

Actually, later on I started changing my mind, due to some personal experience. At the beginning of the 2000s I was contacted by a friend who had opened a beauty and slimming centre based on the use of machines operating through technology which combined physical exercise with the use of infrared rays. Basically, it was based on exercises on a gym bike performed inside a machine which irradiated infrared rays. In that context, my duty was to carry out medical examinations in order to authorise the use of this technology, to offer suitable nutritional plans to enhance the draining effect and, subsequently, to perform check-ups by examining the subcutaneous plicae. Well, I have to say that I noticed a notable result of localized loss of weight in the areas which had undergone this kind of treatment.

The infrared radiation technique is an exogenous thermotherapy, since the heat that is developed and then absorbed by our body is superficial heat which slightly penetrates the skin and the muscular tissue. Localized treatment with infrared radiation instruments positioned in contact with the areas of adipose accumulation increase vascularisation and adipocyte metabolism, favouring the release of fats in blood. The infrared slimming system combines aerobic activity with a microvascular kinetic action.

Thanks to its bio-stimulant characteristics, the infrared light optimises cellular metabolism, making the cellular membrane much more reactive. The properties of infrared rays were already well known in therapeutic and rehabilitation fields. The cells and the organs exposed to the heating effect of infrared rays are activated and, thanks to capillary vasodilation, they are permeated with blood. This causes an improvement in cellular exchange, as well as fat release favoured by the quick elimination of the metabolic waste, with detoxifying effect. So, it is logical to think that the microvascular kinetic effect caused by the thermal effect favours lipolysis more than the thermogenesis induced by low temperature.

How can this be compatible with science? Well, this is linked to the fact that localized loss of weight exists, in the same way as the deposit of localized fat exists.

The explanation is as follows: first of all, it is necessary to clarify that there are various areas of fat accumulation. That is, the visceral area, the haematic (haematic triglycerides), the muscular (triglycerides near the mitochondria and the muscles) and the subcutaneous area. Basal metabolism (that is, the energy consumption of an individual at rest) consumes above all fats (60-80%), while if the body moves also other energy sources are used.

The production of energy starting from fats is only generated by the aerobic mechanism. If our body burnt only fats, it would start taking the ones near the mitochondria, so the first metabolised fat is muscular fat. Which muscle in particular? The working muscle. Therefore, it is clear by now that localized loss of weight exists, even if internally.

This is not all. Accumulation in the muscular area at some point finishes, so the second source for energy is the haematic one, since it is thanks to blood that the cells obtain their nutrition. Subcutaneous and visceral fat are the last ones to be used. First freed of the adipocytes, they are transported in blood and finally burnt in the mitochondria. This is why it is not sufficient to immerse in a cold water bath to lose subcutaneous fat: in cold conditions there is vasoconstriction of the blood vessels which supply the skin and the tissues below, and this limits lipolysis. The body avoids burning subcutaneous fat because it isolates the body from cold, so other energy sources are used instead. In the same way, when performing physical activity, the areas which contribute more to the triglyceride scission are the ones more permeated with blood, since they are the parts which allow higher transport of fatty acids. Actually, if we observe the body of swimmers and water polo players we notice that they are generally less lean than runners or football players.

All this is also due to a control mechanism at hypothalamic level which regulates the centres of body temperature, recording the temperature of water that is colder than the body temperature. This mechanism orientates the body to keep more subcutaneous fat in order to have higher thermal insulation. Do you remember the study where three groups of people performed three different kinds of training with the same energy consumption (running, cycling, swimming), showing three different levels of weight loss? The group who had been running had lost more weight, the ones who had been swimming had lost less weight. The cooling effect produced by ventilation in case of cycling and by the contact with water had slowed down the lipolytic process.

L’Accademia del Fitness-Wellness-Antiaging – April 2014