Does Heat Reduce Belly Fat? Reviewing The Science
Belly fat is a big problem. No, really – a big problem. It’s estimated that around 66% of U.S. adults – a full two-thirds! – are overweight to obese. This has significant implications for an individual’s health, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and general well-being, and represents 9% of all medical expenditures to the tune of $140 billion every year. And with all the “weight loss miracle remedies” out there, we thought we’d take to science to investigate one claim in particular: does heat reduce belly fat? 1
Belly Fat is Dangerous
Excess belly fat is dangerous no matter your height, age, or gender. One reason it’s such a big problem is that it’s not just fat hanging out beneath your skin – it’s also piled around your organs. While some fat in your abdomen is necessary, too much is linked to an increased risk of developing numerous health problems, including 1
- Cardiovascular diseases, such as:
- Heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- And even some types of cancers
As such, getting rid of belly fat is crucial to maintaining your health, lifestyle, and low insurance premiums. So, how about it – does heat reduce belly fat? Instead of answering this question as a catch-all yes-or-no, let’s look at the science behind a few different belly fat-melting “treatments.”
Saunas have long been heralded as a way to burn excess belly fat while you relax. Unfortunately, this theory doesn’t quite hold up to modern science.
In one study on the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and body mass loss (BML) in a heated environment, 674 students went through two 10-minute dry sauna sessions. At the end of the study, students in the “normal” BMI range lost the most weight, while overweight to obese individuals lost less. However, as soon as students rehydrated, the weight came right back. 2
Additional studies have since found that while saunas may slightly increase the rate at which you burn calories, they’re not an effective tool for weight loss. Instead, high temperatures cause your heart to race and your skin to sweat. In turn, this leads to water loss and a slight, albeit temporary, increase in calories burned. 3
#2: Heat Belts
Electrical muscle stimulation devices – also known as “heat belts” – have been purported to help you burn belly fat for over two decades. Manufacturers claim that targeted electrical stimulation causes your abdominal muscles to contract and heat up, leading to fat loss.
However, a 2002 study found that these belts did not affect belly fat loss when used on healthy volunteers according to manufacturer guidelines. Additionally, the study noted that the heat belts did not increase muscle strength, decrease body weight, or improve tone. 4
#3. Heat-Generating Cells
One 2012 study by Ohio State University researchers found that a novel heat application may help to reduce belly fat. The researchers injected mice with capsules containing heat-generating cells to study the effects of heat on belly fat. After 80 days, each mouse lost an average of 20% of their abdominal fat, with visceral fat at least partially replaced by brown fat cells used to generate heat. 5
Unfortunately, due to a lack of follow-up studies, it’s unknown if this treatment is effective in humans.
#4. Plastic Wrap
Another unfortunate myth is that wrapping your belly in plastic body wraps can generate excess heat that helps you burn fat. But, as with saunas, this method only serves to help you lose water weight. No scientific studies suggest that plastic body wraps are effective in reducing belly fat.
#5. Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy, or low-level laser therapy, is a non-invasive fat removal treatment administered either by a qualified clinician or an at-home device. This form of body sculpting claims to remove fat cells without surgically cutting into the body by targeting a red, blue, and infrared light laser over the skin. It’s thought that RLT works by breaking down cell membranes, which allows the contents to be absorbed into the bloodstream and passed through the body as urine or waste. 6 7
Of all the options on this list, red light therapy has the most scientific backing to claim that heat reduces belly fat. Numerous studies have found that red light therapies promote a “significant decrease” in belly and thigh fat – usually between 1-3.5 inches lost after multiple treatments. However, most studies lacked a control group while simultaneously promoting a healthy diet and exercise to those who used it. As such, it’s challenging to verify how effective red light therapy is on its own. 8 9 10 11
#6. Heating Pads
Some myths suggest that using a heating pad– helps reduce body fat. But while heating pads help treat muscle and back pain, tension, and even menstrual cramps, no studies suggest they help burn any fat. 12 13 14
Does Heat Reduce Belly Fat?
The answer, generally, is no. Heat doesn’t reduce belly fat itself – though it can, for a short time, make it appear as though you’ve lost weight. What heat does is help you shed water weight. You might look and feel thinner for a short time, but the fat cells remain behind. When you’re fully hydrated again, the weight comes back. 15
However, some heat-based treatments like infrared lights show more promise than other potentially dangerous methods. That said, more double-blind, placebo-controlled trials are needed before their claims can be confirmed or refuted.
All told, the best way to reduce belly fat is to develop healthy lifestyle choices. Eating a plant-based, low-calorie diet, exercising regularly, and communicating weight-related concerns to your doctor are all steps you can take toward a healthier, leaner you. 16
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