Low Level Laser Therapy and Weight Loss
How effective is Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) as a weight loss treatment?
LAST UPDATED: November 2018.
Author: Ben is a university graduate and keen gym goer. This site was established in April 2015 to provide a free resource for readers regarding sports and fitness.
What is LLLT?
For a start, let’s establish what Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) is.
While not new technology, LLLT has been in use since the 1960’s when a Hungarian physician discovered and demonstrated (quite accidentally) that LLLT could accelerate wound healing in mice.
It was discovered because the low-level ruby laser he was using to try and treat tumors was actually faulty, as a result it wasn’t producing the power that it was designed for.
However, it did seem to help with wound healing.
It has then been hypothesized that it is the limited set of wavelengths emitted by the laser that seem to have effects for many uses.
If the laser’s wavelengths are outside of the specified set, it does not appear to be effective.
With over fifty years of use and practice, LLLT is a technology that is fast becoming a treatment for many different ailments which require further stimulation to encourage healing, reductions of inflammation and the treatment of pain.
Studies and in practice shows that the skin responds well to red and near-infra red wavelengths.
Due to its apparent lack of side effects its use is further being investigated to see what other benefits it may have.
Thus far it has established itself as a useful therapy for dermatology uses as the light can stimulate blood flow, electron transport, increase nitric oxide production and activate stem cells among other effects.
This has demonstrated a beneficial effect on acne, scars, UV damage to the skin as well as treat inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis.
How does LLLT work?
The mechanics behind LLLT is the use of photons which can change biological activity.
This is administered by using light emitting diodes, filtered lamps or coherent light sources which are lasers at a wavelength of near infrared light or low levels of red light.
The energy used for the power is at a low level whereby there’s a non-thermal irradiance emitted which means it cannot cut skin tissues as some other lasers.
The results of the therapy have stimulated widespread use in the aesthetic treatment of skin conditions such scar tissue, wrinkles and photoaged skin.
How effective is LLLT in dermatology applications?
Even though LLLT has been around since the first man on the moon there is still much needed credibility for the processes and the results before it will be considered mainstream.
Yet, those who snub LLLT are missing a trick, especially now with the common use and practical applications offered by modern LED lights.
And, while there is no concrete agreement on which exact wavelengths or whether a combination of both are responsible for the most effective treatment of healing, inflammation reduction, cell death reduction, pain treatment and skin rejuvenation, it does appear to beneficial.
As such it has been cleared by the FDA in 2008 for use as a pain relief treatment.
Can LLLT stimulate fat loss and weight loss?
So, we have established that LLLT does offer dermatology benefit, even if it is considered slightly left field and controversial regardless of the time span in which it has been used. This is due to a real lack of understanding.
By using low energy infrared and near infrared lights to alter the biological activity of the skin, can it also have an effect on the layers of fat beneath the skin?
For a start, LLLT is non-invasive, and if proven to be effective at achieving fat and weight loss, it could be seen as a real alternative to the very invasive use of liposuction.
The problem is that liposuction carries risks and the first attempt of such a procedure carried out in France during the 1920’s resulted in gangrene and death of the patient.
Over time, the risks of such treatments has reduced and the effectiveness improved.
Laser therapy has also been introduced, along with developments in ultrasound, however, these also carry risks.
It is these risks and limitations that have spawned the investigation of further methods to reduce fat in people which is non-invasive.
With the seeming success of LLLT in dermatology applications this has created a thirst for the use of LLLT for body contouring, cellulite treatment and fat reduction.
[Brown SA, Rohrich RJ, Kenkel J, Young VL, Hoopman J, Coimbra M. Effect of low-level laser therapy on abdominal adipocytes before lipoplasty procedures. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2004;113(6):1796–1804. discussion 1805–1806.]
Initial uses of LLLT for fat loss
Back in 2000 LLLT was introduced as a supplementary part of the liposuction process.
However, much of its use was for the post surgery healing process and pain management even though it was also administered to soften the fat layers.
The trial was seen as a success as it appeared to allow an increased volume of fat extracted while reducing the surgery time.
It also required less force from the surgeon to extract the fat and the recovery of the patients saw a significant reduction in time.
As a result of these results form the study the FDA issued a clearance for the EML device that was used alongside to enhance the traditional liposuction therapy procedure.
[Jackson FR, Roche G, Kimberly JB, Douglas DD, T KS. Low-level laser-assisted liposuction: A 2004 clinical study of its effectiveness for enhancing ease of liposuction procedures and facilitating the recovery process for patients undergoing thigh, hip and stomach countouring. Am J Cosmet Surg. 2004;21(4):191–194.]
It appears that when exposed to laser light penetration saw that fat liquefaction was improved and after just four minutes of laser therapy treatment 80% of the fat was released from the adipose cells.
With just a further two minutes of exposure pretty much all of the fat had been released.
In comparison, the fat tissue that was not exposed to the laser therapy saw no release or increased liquefaction.
[Neira R, Arroyave J, Ramirez H, Ortiz CL, Solarte E, Sequeda F, Gutierrez MI. Fat liquefaction: Effect of low-level laser energy on adipose tissue. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2002;110(3):912–922. discussion 923–925.]
Those results were for LLLT assisting Liposuction can it be used as a stand alone fat loss therapy?
This is where the doubts set in and the widespread use not particularly evident and remains somewhat controversial.
Further studies have failed to replicate success of releasing almost all of the fat from the adipose cells. What this alternative study discovered was that the LLLT caused the brown fat to fuse which then seemed to transform them to yellow fat, yet the breakdown of the yellow fats seemed negligible.
The only changes observed were of the brown fat tissue with no effects of the yellow fat demonstrated which contradicts earlier finds.
There’s also further studies which claim that LLLT is not capable enough to penetrate below the skin and reach the subdermal tissue to have any effect anyway.
Where do these results leave us?
Well, not all is completely lost.
While the use of LLLT by itself to increase fatty tissue breakdown and reduce weight and fat mass is still up for debate its use in other areas of improving body composition are available…
LLLT and body contouring
Studies have shown that the use of equipment that consists of five rotating diode laser heads which emit laser light has been able to reduce the circumference of the waist, hips and thighs on participants.
As a result, this has gained the device FDA clearance.
The participants all saw an average of 3.5 inches reduced across the three areas of study in as little as fourteen days.
The trial saw no intervention of diet or exercise.
Further studies have produced similarly impressive results with no adverse side effects nor fat or liquid redistribution, although one trial did include the administration of certain dietary supplements such as Green Tea.
All of the studies showed average circumference averages from as low as 2.99 inches to as impressive as 5.17 inches.
Can LLLT reduce cellulite?
The long term results of LLLT and a reduction in cellulite have yet to be confirmed.
This is because from the studies there has been initial positive results when combining LLLT with an anti-cellulite gel when compared to trials using either just the LLLT or just the gel over a three month period for a fifteen minute treatment twice per week.
While the initial results were positive, it must be noted that after eighteen months some of the participants saw a reversion back to the initial cellulite grading. Effectively, the cellulite returned.
[Sasaki GH, Oberg K, Tucker B, Gaston M. The effectiveness and safety of topical PhotoActif phosphatidylcholine-based anti-cellulite gel and LED (red and near-infrared) light on Grade II–III thigh cellulite: A randomized, double-blinded study. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2007;9(2):87–96.]
There is now the availability of a more contemporary device that can be used for treatment of cellulite as a stand alone procedure with no requirement of cellulite gel that is currently only available in Europe which has demonstrated vastly improved cellulite appearance. However, it is too soon to see what the long term effects are.
[Jackson RF, Roche GC, Shanks SC. A double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial evaluating the ability of low-level laser therapy to improve the appearance of cellulite. Lasers Surg Med. 2013;45(3):141–147.]
So, how effective is Low Level Laser Therapy for fat and weight loss?
As it stands, results are mixed although, promising for the use of LLLT as a stand alone weight and fat loss therapy.
This does include the effects of body contouring, yet more trials need to be established as a cellulite treatment or a sole fat reduction practice as we have seen conflicting evidence.
As a spot fat treatment for the reduction of cellulite we have seen that there are positive results when the course of treatment was administered in twenty four applications over a three month period in combination with a cellulite gel.
However, as time progressed and the treatment ceased, it became apparent that the former grade and condition of the cellulite of the majority of the trial participants returned.
Further trials have been conducted using LLLT alone using more modern devices that are for use in Europe only at this stage, however, time will tell if this makes any further developments and if the original level of cellulite returns.
Whereas, when LLLT was used for body contouring alone, there have been a number of impressive statistics returned that have seen overall waist, thigh and hip girth reductions when combined with no other dietary or exercise supplementation which has lent itself to significant aesthetic improvements.
However, there are more positive results when LLLT is used as a supplementary treatment to help improve the effectiveness of an already established means of fat loss: liposuction.
For example, there have been great improvements of liposuction surgery when combined with LLLT.
This includes the amount of fat extracted plus the ease of which it was extracted and the vastly improved recovery from the surgery.
However, liposuction is not without its risks.
Therefore, at present, LLLT for fat loss is still under scrutiny, yet, so far it seems to have cemented itself in the fat loss arena, if only as a supplementary role.
It will be interesting to see where Low Level Light Therapy positions itself in the coming years as a risk free, non invasive fat loss treatment.