Friday, August 2, 2013

Abdominal Fat Annihilation With Clay-Wraps, Microcurrents & Aerobic Exercise? There is Something in This List That Works, But It's Probably Not the Clay ;-)

This, probably won't cut it (the fat), because the electrodes and the wraps are missing.
I suppose that the headline of today's SuppVersity article will probably split the SuppVersity Readership into two camps. Those who say: "Pah, I am not a pussy: Clay-Wraps are not an option. I'd rather do a couple of additional HIIT sessions than getting one of those!" And the other camp saying: "Wtf, finally I have a reason to go to the spa regularly!"

In the end, it does not matter on which side of this divide you are, the results a group of scientists from the Oporto Polytechnic Institut in Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal present in their most recent paper in Clay Sciences (no, this is not a joke, there really is a peer-reviewed journal on "clay science"), will probably surprise all of you.

"Clay wraps? Really?"

Assuming you would read the full-text of the study, you would, just like me, initially be enlightened that clay has been used for centuries not just as a cosmetic to make your skin look younger and healthier, but also as a means to reduce abdominal fat (Melo. 2013). Usually, these clays are composed of "green clay" (which has natural calcium and aluminum as components), green tea and magnesium sulfate. The clay is impregnated in a bandage that compresses the tissue and enhances fluid drainage from the abdominal region through the superficial lymphatic system (Standring. 2008).
  • Green tea reduces thyroid hormoness. Reason for concern? (learn more)
    Green tea: I am quite certain that all of you are familiar with the fat liberating effects green tea has on adipose tissue, as well as its ability to induce apoptosis in mature fat cells, to inhibit adipogenesis (storage of fat) and differentiation of preadipocytes (formation of new fat cells). Accoding to Belo (2009) and Heinrich (2004) these effects are retained within the adipose tissue, when its applied topically and only very little of the agent will actually make it into circulation.
  • Magnesium sulfate: Being an essential mineral to the activity of hormone-sensitive lipase, magnesium can facilitate triglyceride breakdown. It's topical application may be particularly useful, in people with circulatory problems (as in cellulite; learn more). The way the author's present it as an "active fat burner" (in between the lines, only) is yet unwarranted.
  • Calcium: Contrary to magnesium, calcium actually plays a more active role in the promotion of body fat loss. An increase in extracellular calcium concentration leads to an augmented enzymatic activity and promotes a reduction of calcitriol (active vitamin D) that will in turn trigger lipolysis (Somaet. 2003; Zemel. 2005). Whether this works via topical application has AFAIK not been well-established.
Another not fully understood factor that could make clay and the minerals in it a valuable tool for minimalist local body reshaping is their ionic nature. The latter can have direct effects on the microcurrents (electrolipophoresis; the movement of molecules due to electric currents) and may thus promote triglyceride degradation by increasing bloodflow and metabolism and by provoking changes in cell membrane polarity.

Ultrasound, caliper and body impedance

The subjects the scientists selected for this research were 20 young women (faculty students), with a body mass index that would rank them as either normal (18.5–24) or pre-obese (25–29). To make sure they would not be fooled by mere changes in the fluid levels of the tissues, the scientists used a combination of ultrasound, body fat caliper and body impedance measures, to access the effects of the "clay-wrap intervention" on the body composition of the ladies.

For the women in the active arm of the study, the protocol, which they went trough two times a week over a course of five weeks (10 interventions altogether) looked like this:
  1. In case it's not the amount of fat, but the orange peel look you want to get rid off, check out the SuppVersity Cellulite Special and listen to the show.
    Vigorous 5 min massage with an alcoholic extract of green tea (96% ethanol) macerated for 5 days, about which the scientists say: "[A] combination of ethyl alcohol with green tea provides a good extraction of the tea components . In addition, ethanol promotes the mechanical removal of contaminants and dissolves lipids in the lipid membrane, increasing the permeability of the skin" (Melo. 2003)
  2. Application of a solution of 33.79 g of green clay combined with 18.56 g of magnesium sulfate (proportion in volume of 6 measures of green clay for 4 measures of sulfate) dissolved in 16.67 ml of distilled water to the abdomen. 
  3. Application of a low elasticity bandage soaked in an infusion of 3.12 g of green tea, 6.94 g of magnesium sulfate (1 measure, in volume) and 0.5 l of water was applied with increased pressure from the center to the periphery. 
  4. Application of microcurrents to the abdominal region with electrodes in a parallel position, and at an intensity below the sensitivity threshold (max. of 1 mA, frequencies of 25 Hz and 10 Hz) for 15 minutes. The polarity changed every second.
The protocol also included 30 min of aerobic moderate-intensity exercise (50%) on a cycloergometer
which had to be performed with the clay body wrap on the abs.
Figure 1: Before vs. after local (ultrasound) and total (body fat caliper in %) in the active arm of the study (Melo. 2003)
If we look at the main study outcomes, it's hard to argue that the intervention was kind of successful. "Kind of", in this case, implies that the effects were not earth-shattering and nothing you couldn't achieve by diet + exercise alone. More importantly, though, the results of the control group were within statistical margins the same. So what does that tell you about the usefulness of clay wraps?

If you are in his position, clay is certainly the last thing you want to rely on, to reduce your weight to a healthy level. Stick to what works dieting and the glucose repartitioning effects of exercise about which you've read in an article from Friday, July 5 (read it)
Bottom line: So what can we learn from a study like this? Well, personally, I would say: "Just because it's science, this does not mean it does make sense!" And I guess you will concede that going through the ardeous procedure is not exactly worth the statistically non-significant additional 1 cm reduction in waist circumference in the intervention group.

Not convinced,yet, well if you put any faith in the data from body-fat calipers and body impedance devices which tell us that the total trunk fat loss was (non significantly) larger in the control group (-2.1% vs. -1.6) and the total body fat loss measured using triceps, suprailiac, thigh and abdominal skinfolds, were -1.9% and -1.8% for the women in the control and intervention group, respectively, I guess that should suffice to shelve the idea of going to the spa to actively burn fat. That does not mean, however that the relaxing effect it can have may eventually promote body fat loss, but this would be the topic for another study ;-)

  • Belo SE, Gaspar LR, Maia Campos PM, Marty JP. Skin penetration of epigallocatechin-3-gallate and quercetin from green tea and Ginkgo biloba extracts vehiculated in cosmetic formulations. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2009;22(6):299-304.
  • Heinrich M, Barnes J, Gibbons S, Williamson EM.Fundamentals of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone—Elsevier Limited. 2004.
  • Melo et al. Clay body wrap with microcurrent: Effects in central adiposity. Applied Clay Science. 2013; 80-81:140–146.
  • Soma MR, Gotto AM Jr, Ghiselli G. Rapid modulation of rat adipocyte lipoprotein lipase: effect of calcium, A23187 ionophore, and thrombin. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1989 Jun 28;1003(3):307-14.
  • Standring S. Anterior abdominal wall (chapter 61). Standring, S, Gray's Anatomy—The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice. Elsevier, 40th Churchill Livingstone. 2008; p1059.
  • Zemel MB, Richards J, Milstead A, Campbell P. Effects of calcium and dairy on body composition and weight loss in African-American adults. Obes Res. 2005 Jul;13(7):1218-25.