New Harvard study fights fat with salty, icy injections

It sure sounds like a pop-up ad you’d see online, but scientists have created and tested a new treatment that melts away belly fat. The new technique, developed by researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), involves injecting an icy saline solution directly into fat deposits to shrink them by half.

The new process sounds simple enough. It uses a sterile solution made up of saline, glycerol, and between 20 and 40 percent small ice particles, giving it a slushy texture. This mixture is injected directly into fat deposits, such as around the abdomen, where it crystallizes and kills the fat cells. Over the course of a few weeks following the treatment, the body will flush out the dead cells.

The team says that this process could be used to reduce fat stores in basically any part of the body, at any depth, as long as it can be accessed by a needle or catheter. Importantly, it doesn’t seem to have any adverse effects on other tissues, such as muscle.

This new process is an evolution of a similar technique previously created by some of the same team members. Cryolipolysis – or “Coolsculpting” as it’s nicknamed – involves running a strange vacuum-like device over the desired area, usually the belly. This chills the fat and kills the cells in a similar way to the new method, but it doesn’t seem to be as effective. It also takes longer to administer – up to an hour – and longer to work, up to six months. The fat decrease is also smaller, at around 20 percent on average, and it can’t reach deeper fat reserves.

The researchers on the new study say that the new injectable method should be faster and more effective.

“The appeal of this technique is that it’s easy and convenient to do,” says Lilit Garibyan, lead author of the study. “With this new technique the doctor can do a simple injection that takes just less than a minute, the patient can go home, and then the fat gradually disappears.”

There’s reason to believe that any fat-blasting effects will be purely cosmetic, studies on CoolSculpting have shown that it didn’t reduce overall lipid levels or improve liver function, so it won’t suddenly make you healthier.