• Research

    New ray of light for those who struggle with weight loss: low-level laser therapy

The struggle to lose weight is complex and full of challenges. For those who have struggled with their weight, finding hope and solutions can be difficult despite understanding the detrimental health consequences.

There is no question that losing weight is challenging.  As a result, procedures exist that aim to remove fat cells from the body.  A well-known procedure is liposuction, a surgical procedure which requires general anesthesia. In liposuction, fat cells are suctioned out through strategically-placed incisions. It carries with it a number of risks and side effects that range from cosmetic to life threatening. An emerging alternative to liposuction is Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved low-level laser therapy (LLLT); LLLT is more focused on contouring the body after weight loss has already happened to focus on target areas that may be more resistant to fat loss.

LLLT is a laser therapy treatment with few side effects. With LLLT, the patient and provider decide the body location that needs attention (weight loss).  Patients simply lay down under the LLLT machine, the lasers are positions accordingly and the lasers go to work penetrating and poking holes in fat cells, thereby removing the fat from the cells and shrinking them. One treatment consists of the patient being treated while on their back and the flipping over and being treated while on their stomach. When treatment is finished, you can get dressed and go back to your normal life with no down time. This should be repeated for a series of treatments with each treatment lasting about 1 hour.

Mayo Clinic researcher Ivana Croghan, Ph.D., has spent much of her career studying tobacco dependence and obesity. She is especially interested in the way these

Ivana Croghan, Ph.D.

conditions intersect with women’s health.

Knowing the importance of behavioral intervention for weight loss, Dr. Croghan and her research colleagues study various therapies in combination with behavioral intervention to determine safety and effectiveness. In a recent study, published in the BioMed Central journal BMC Obesity, Dr. Croghan and her team examined the feasibility and safety of using LLLT for weight loss when combined with behavioral intervention and the weight loss medication lorcaserin.

Dr. Croghan and team found that, “When combined with behavioral intervention, lorcaserin and LLLT may be effective components of a comprehensive approach to the treatment of overweight and obesity in the clinical setting.”


Dr. Croghan, although optimistic about the potential of LLLT, cautions, “While exploring this treatment and devising ways to help people in their weight loss journey, this treatment, like many diets and weight loss medications, should not be considered a miracle treatment. LLLT alone will not help someone lose weight or maintain the weight loss, unless the individual embraces a permanent change in lifestyle.”

Given the nature of a pilot study, more research will be needed to determine long-term effectiveness, recommended number of treatments, and frequency of those treatments. But their findings do provide a new ray of light for people who struggle to lose weight and possibly another option in the toolbox to combat obesity.

To learn about some of Mayo Clinic’s clinical trials for weight loss and other health care concerns, visit the Mayo Clinic Clinical Trials website.