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The Science Behind Using Temperature for Fat Loss & Reduction

“This year, I want to lose weight” — something we hear a lot from our family, friends, and even ourselves. However, ‘losing weight isn’t completely accurate because most of the time we’re actually hoping to lose fat. Is there actually an effective fat reduction method? Does one even exist??

Fat Cells in Our Bodies

Our body weight is made up of water, bones, muscles, organs, and body fat. And fat is increased by excess caloric intake. The number of fat cells in our body stays relatively stable throughout our lifetime1. However, they increase and decrease in size when lipids are added or removed from the cell. Thereby, affecting our overall weight. A healthy diet and regular exercise are always recommended to decrease the size of these fats for effective fat reduction.

Unfortunately, many who maintain a balanced lifestyle may still notice stubborn pockets of fat that just won’t go away. For these cases, there are many treatments on the market that use temperature-controlled technologies to these fat pockets.

We all know that diet and exercise can affect our fat mass. So, how exactly does temperature reduce fat in our bodies?

The Correlation Between Temperature and Effective Fat Reduction

Studies have shown that both hot and cold temperatures affect the way fat is burned. Let’s take a deep dive into the science behind it.

Effective Fat Reduction: Cold temperatures

The fat in our bodies can be divided into white and brown adipose fat. White fat is the energy derived from the food we eat. And brown fat releases stored energy in the form of heat to burn off calories. Who would have thought fat cells could actually burn calories?

Lucky for us, studies have shown that colder temperatures generate more brown fat2 activity in our bodies. Our body temperature decreases in colder environments. This causes us to shiver. It is our natural reaction to keep us warm by burning calories. As long as you aren’t consuming excess calories , you can lose fat mass through cold.

Effective Fat Reduction: Hot temperatures 

It’s a known fact that when you exercise, your body temperature increases. Hence, using up more energy than you consume. As a result, makes your body burn fat for more energy.

While your body temperature increases, exercising in high temperatures may not necessarily burn more fat. High temperatures definitely make you sweat more. However, you’re only losing water weight from sweating it out. And all this water weight loss is quickly replaced upon drinking liquids.

Conventional Methods on How Temperature Has Been Used for Weight Loss

Saunas

Sauna rooms are used for improving the body and skin by increasing blood flow and circulation. This is done by heating up the room between 65°C to 90°C. Hence, increasing your body temperature and induces heavy sweating. While this may be a relaxing way to unwind, it does not help to burn fat or calories. Instead, sauna makes you lose water weight through sweating.

a lady sitting on a bench in a sauna room to help her lose some fat
A therapist wrapping a patient leg to slim down and reduce fat

Body wraps

Body wraps or slim wraps work by applying a heat cream. Then treated area is wrapped in plastic film to increase your body temperature. As your body temperature rises, you will start to sweat to release the heat. As a result, you may burn a couple of calories but definitely not enough to shed significant fat. Similar to a sauna, slim wraps reduce your water weight by sweating it out.

Hot Yoga

Hot yoga is also known as Bikram Yoga. A series of yoga positions are practised in a room that is heated to a high temperature of 40°C. Yoga of a higher intensity can be considered as a form of cardio. Therefore, helps to use up energy and burn calories as well as fat. A 2014 study3 showed that on average, women burned 330 calories while men burn 460 calories during a 90-minute Bikram class.

The heat in the room helps to increase heart rates and blood flow. But it does not necessarily correlate to burning more calories or fat. Hot yoga is an exercise that has shown to be able to shed fat. However it is the same for all high-intensity exercises that burn calories too.

a group of women doing a yoga pose
a woman going through Cryotherapy treatment

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is also known as cold therapy. It is a treatment that exposes the entire body to sub-zero temperatures while in a cold chamber. The temperature falls between -100°C to -400°C and lasts for less than 5 minutes.

Research has also shown that cryotherapy can heal the body after a workout4 . At the same time it converts white fat into brown fat. As shivering can help to burn fat, cold therapy can also improve metabolism and reduce fat mass over time5.

However, as it is unlikely to observe significant fat reduction from cryotherapy due to the short bursts of shivers. Cryotherapy is usually a treatment more commonly used for muscle recovery rather than fat reduction.

Cryolipolysis & Laser Lipolysis: Technologies That Aid Effective Fat Reduction

Temperature is continually used in fat loss treatments. These treatments force the entire body into a fat-burning process by raising the body temperature.

Non-invasive fat removal treatments have shown to target fat cells directly. Treatments kill these cells and permanently flushing them out of your system in just a single session. Laser lipolysis and Cryolipolysis are some non-invasive fat removal treatments that utilize temperature to do just that.

Cryolipolysis

Cryolipolysis, a fat-freezing process, uses sub-zero temperatures to target stubborn pockets of fat resistant to exercise or dieting. CoolSculpting is an FDA-approved treatment that uses this technology for fat reduction. It works by placing an applicator onto the treatment areas. Subsequently, temperatures are reduced to as low as -10°C to -13°C.

How Does Cryolipolysis Destroy Fat Cells

These cold temperatures cause fat cells to freeze while still keeping the surrounding tissues undamaged. When the fat cells are frozen, the body recognizes the impending death of the cell. Afterwhich, it begins the process of eliminating it from the body.

Over the next couple of months, these dead cells will be permanently removed from the body through the lymphatic system. Studies have also shown that cryolipolysis can reduce fat in the treated area by 27% after just one session6.

a lady reading a coolsculpting brochure while waiting for her fat freezing treatment
a lady going through SculpSure treatment and reduction to reduce her arm fat

Laser lipolysis

Laser lipolysis is a similar process to cryolipolysis. Fat cells are eliminated naturally from the body, except it uses targeted heat to get the job done instead. SculpSure is an FDA-approved non-invasive fat removal treatment that uses laser lipolysis to target the stubborn fat cells.

The treatment works by strapping the SculpSure applicators onto the targeted area to heat the skin temperature to 45°C – 47°C. The laser penetrates deep into the dermis to reach the fat cells without damaging the skin’s surface.

How Does Laser Lipolysis Destroy Fat Cells

As the induced laser heats up the cells, they begin to break down. This broken-down fat will then be permanently flushed out as waste over the next couple of months. Not only can laser lipolysis reduce fat, the induced heat also increases collagen production in the skin to improve skin laxity.

CoolSculpting and SculpSure are non-invasive fat removal treatments that can benefit those that just can’t seem to get rid of stubborn fat bulges. Not all bodies are the same, so it’s important to schedule a body assessment so that your provider can understand your needs and assist you in achieving your body goals.

References: 1. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/fat-cell-numbers-teen-years-linger-lifetime 2. van der Lans, A. A., Hoeks, J., Brans, B., Vijgen, G. H., Visser, M. G., Vosselman, M. J., … & van Marken Lichtenbelt, W. D. (2013). Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. The Journal of clinical investigation, 123(8), 3395-3403. 3. Campbell, H. K. (2015). The Comparative Effects of Hot Yoga and Thermoneutral Yoga on Flexibility, Heart Rate, Sweat Rate, and Mood. The University of Arkansas. 4. Sutkowy, P., Augustyńska, B., Woźniak, A., & Rakowski, A. (2014). Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2014. 5. Loap, S., & Lathe, R. (2018). Mechanism underlying tissue cryotherapy to combat obesity/overweight: triggering thermogenesis. Journal of obesity, 2018. 6.Krueger, N., Mai, S. V., Luebberding, S., & Sadick, N. S. (2014). Cryolipolysis for noninvasive body contouring: clinical efficacy and patient satisfaction. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology7, 201–205. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S44371