Fat-Busting Research Could Help Whittle Waistlines

Fat cells have a maximum load they can withstand. Exceed it—through pressure or vibration—and the cells disintegrate, research shows. 

Fat responds to mechanical loads in the same way as muscle or bone, say researchers from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. Their findings could help scientists develop new technologies to beat the battle of the bulge.

Astronauts who spend significant periods in zero gravity often are unable to walk for a short time, because their muscles and bones atrophy due to a lack of mechanical load, explains Professor Amit Gefen. He believes that fat cells also respond to different mechanical stimuli in much the same way, and is using computer models to see how cells function under mechanical loading.

His research team has determined that fat cells have a load magnitude threshold at which they will disintegrate. The scientists are now trying to determine whether using ultrasound or supersonic frequencies can mimic this threshold through tissue vibration and eliminate excess fat.

The research, recently reported in the Journal of Biomechanics, has direct applications in weight loss programs, as well as the management of chronic diabetes.

“Any treatment that would be effective in fighting obesity would also apply immediately to diabetes,” Professor Gefen explains.

The theory that fat cells will crumble under pressure is similar to those espoused in infomercials for “ab-busting” vibrators, but scientists first need to determine the magnitude of the mechanical load and frequency of application for such devices to be successful.

As the team from Tel Aviv University continues to explore the mathematical equations that will allow lipids to dissolve, they can better understand how to control the body’s fat production, whether through ultrasonic vibration or simply putting in more hours on the elliptical machine.