By Stephenie Karony

Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Body fat is best
tested underwater

Question: Which is the most accurate method for testing percent body fat?

Answer: Hydrostatic or underwater weighing is the most accurate method. Here's how it's done. You sit in a tank, up to your neck in water. You're strapped into a chair so you won't float to the top. You then inhale a breath, followed by exhaling as completely as possible all the air from your lungs. While you're holding your exhale, an attendant lowers you, head and all, into the water for 5 seconds. She registers your underwater weight during this time.

Very few people get it right the first time, so the test usually takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete. It's an expensive test, around $100, and can only be done in labs and clinics that have the proper apparatus.

Skin-fold caliper testing is also accurate, second only to hydrostatic testing. Armed with calipers, a fitness professional pinches the fat on your body at seven different sites. The seven numbers are then plugged into a formula, and the resulting figures tell you how much body fat you have compared to lean body tissue. This test only takes a few minutes to do, if performed by someone who knows what they're doing.

For skin-fold caliper testing to be accurate, you can't take the test right after a workout. Also, you have to be relatively dehydrated (nothing to eat or drink for two hours before the test), and your skin has to be perfectly dry. The tester has to know where and how to pinch you, how to use the calipers and how to work the formula. Health clubs and gyms usually have staff available to administer skin-fold tests - it shouldn't cost more than $20.

Q: Can the new dietary supplement cellasene really reduce cellulite in eight weeks without exercise, as the label implies?

A: In a word, no. Cellasene appeared earlier this year in TV commercials and full-page ads in newspapers across the country. The ads boast that it's "the one that works." I don't think so.

First, let's look at what cellulite actually is. Cellulite is not a medical term and it's not a specific type of fat. Cellulite is a popular lay term used to describe pockets of fat, separated by connective tissue, that protrude into the skin layer. This creates the dimpling effect referred to as cellulite. Cellulite may result from slackening connective tissue, caused by aging and by being overweight. But just about anybody, any age or any size, appears to be susceptible.

Cellasene claims to target "trapped fat." According to product literature, it works like this. Cellasene supposedly redistributes fat by improving circulation to the fat tissue, which also is supposed to strengthen the connective tissue beneath the skin.

Cellasene does not claim to eliminate fat, just to move it around.

Both studies that tout the benefits of cellasene were conducted by the product's manufacturers, and the results of those studies were published in their own product journal. Neither study was double-blind, so they were subject to research bias. Also, neither study has been published in an independent scientific journal; thus they haven't been scrutinized by the scientific community.

Bottom line: there is no existing product that can mobilize fat, or cause fat to shrink from a specific area of the body.

It does appear the ingredients in cellasene are safe for most people, with a few exceptions. Individuals with thyroid conditions, women who are pregnant or nursing, and those taking blood-thinning medications should avoid this product.

Stephenie Karony is a certified health
and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and the author of
"Body Shaping with Free Weights." Send questions to her at
P.O. Box 262, Wailuku Hi. Her column appears on Wednesdays.

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