Hypoxi Vacuum Therapy - Sucking at science?

Author: Graham Wheeler

It seems that regular exercise and healthy eating just
aren't enough these days.

Photo by Mike Baird via Wikimedia Commons

With the summer finally here, now is the time you wish you'd kept up those arbitrary New Year's resolutions and joined the gym, maybe cut down on the booze, or perhaps even tried using some self restraint and not gorged yourself on that tub of Häagen-Dazs you found in the freezer.

It seems that wherever you turn, there's a barrage of quick-fix diets and "scientifically proven" methods in order to make us look our best, or at least attempt to emulate the figure of the latest celebrity to be placed on the cover of Elle.

Well, it seems there's a new addition to the fat-fighting army and its name is Hypoxi.

Hypoxi Vacuum Therapy claims to offer amazing slimming results, burning off excess fat and reducing cellulite around the buttocks, thighs and stomach, via a combination of exercise, improved diet and "targeted low atmospheric pressure" as the website states. The idea is that by performing exercise for 30 minutes a day, three times a week over six weeks AND receiving alternating doses of low and high pressure to the lower body at the same time, fat is burnt off more effectively than conventional exercise and fatty acids and toxins are transported away from the "problem areas" to "the blood-purifying organs". In addition, if lying down in the Hypoxi L250 (one of the devices used), the "forces of gravity" (yes, there's more than one gravitational force apparently) help to transport these toxins away. Fascinating stuff, no?

OK. I'm holding my breath too. It seems that the regular prolonged exercise regimen and the nutrition plan, which advises clients to "... consume a healthy balanced nutritious diet and drink plenty of water" are good enough guidelines alone and have served most of us fairly well in staying healthy. But from now I'm going to steer clear of using phrases in inverted commas and suppress all my manifestations of cynicism. For this piece, I shall focus on the reporting of the purported science behind Hypoxi Therapy.

The Hypoxi website claims that clinical trials of vacuum therapy have been conducted as early as 1997, where 1,530 women were recruited into a six-month study. They concluded at the end of the study that women who used Hypoxi Therapy saw a reduction in thigh circumference three times greater than those women who only participated in conventional exercise.

My main issue here is with the lack of information provided. How were the women split between the Hypoxi group and the control group? How did the two groups differ in patient characteristics, mean body measurements and exercise/nutrition plans? Were the trial conductors blinded with respect to the therapy that the patients were receiving? Why weren't there any men recruited for this trial?

Figure 1: Results from the 1997 study of 1,530 women. Note how despite it being a six-month study, comparisons are given only over a two-week period. Also, I assume the year should read 1997, not 1999. The red oval indicates misreporting of weight differences. Information courtesy of Hypoxi

Even the presentation of results on the website is far from convincing. There are no confidence intervals around estimates of thigh, waist, buttocks or belly circumference, or weight, so we have no idea about how variable or statistically significant the results are. Even the simple subtraction of two measurements is incorrect for weight differences (see Figure 1). Also, are the numbers provided central averages, or the largest changes observed? In Figure 1, why has there been a comparison made after two weeks, despite the trial apparently being conducted over six months? Perhaps one fundamental question to ask is whether or not the trial was designed, conducted and sponsored by Hypoxi itself. Luckily, an independent study has been conducted.

In 2007, an independent trial was conducted by the University of Salzburg, with four study groups:

  1. Group 1 - Hypoxi Therapy three times per week and special nutrition programme;
  2. Group 2 - Conventional ergometer training with the Hypoxi-Trainer but without low and high pressure, as well as nutrition programme - the placebo group;
  3. Group 3 - Nutrition programme without training - the nutrition group;
  4. Group 4 - Without any intervention - the control group.

We are not told how many patients were recruited, nor how they were divided into the groups and how each group's characteristics differed. In the summary of findings, we are informed that Group 1 showed outstanding results compared to Group 2 and Group 3 (no comparison to the control group was provided). The best result, in my opinion was that "positive changes in skin appearance and cellulite were observed - the subjective evaluation of the team rated the effects of Hypoxi 400% better than the effects of diet and training". Applying a subjective evaluative technique (whatever that actually was) on what is essentially attractiveness and providing an exact, quantitative, objective figure is astounding, especially when once again, no ranges or confidence intervals are stated around such estimates.

I have yet to find the Salzburg paper, but I am sure if would make a very interesting read. I would like to point out that I am not openly discrediting Hypoxi therapy - I haven't tried it and to date I am unable to actually find any of the evidence that supports it, apart from on the company website - but I am raising the point that we should be able to question the scientific rationale behind new treatments and have all relevant information and evidence (for and against) presented in an easy-to-interpret manner. A healthy degree of scepticism is entirely natural; never let that get sucked away.

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A complete waste of time and money, in my case.  I tried hypoxi after it was recommended by the provider to help me tone and kick-start fat reduction and I followed their recommended strict calorie-controlled shake-based diet for weight-loss, at the same time.  I drank (as always)  an average of 2.5 litres plain water per day, adhered to the diet,  and attended three/four fitness classes per week as well as the hypoxi and as instructed, did not eat for 2hrs after each hypoxi session.  The result - zero weight loss after four weeks, zero improvement in muscle mass, zero reduction in BMI, zero reduction in visceral fat. in fact zero change on any of the many indicators  So, I wanted to understand why this was the case. The manager became was quite defensive in response to my query as to why it wasn't working for me; e.g., 'it's never happened before', 'no-one else has complained' (I'm not convinced that's the case)  'get checked out, you must have a medical problem' (not the case) and when all that failed to explain the outcome, 'there are no guarantees in life' (no, but they did recommended it without any caveats, told me it is effective for dealing with 'stubborn areas of fat' then when it didn't work said it wasn't for that, never mentioned it might not work)

Similarly to the outcome reported in this article, I did not see or hear about any significant levels of weight loss in anyone else attending the Hypoxi centre I went to and certainly nothing that couldn't be achieved with sensible eating and drinking patterns and regular moderate exercise over a few months; most reported losing around 2-3 kg over several (10-12) weeks; certainly didn't see any 'miracle' results whilst I was there.

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I certainly think that the touting of hypoxi as a "miracle" treatment for fat loss is exaggerated, as moderate exercise and a reduced calorie diet is a big part of losing weight. However, I've used hypoxi 3 years running at the end of winter (12 sessions over 4 weeks) to shift a little bit of padding (less than 5 pounds), and I can certainly say that this is the best treatment I've ever come across for improving skin tone and cellulite. But the exercise is very moderate, so as someone quite fit I rely on the gym for strength and fitness.

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I have just undergone 18 sessions of hypoxi treatment.

I was dubious to begin with, but reassured that I would have results. During treatment I did notice a slimming of the thighs and considered cellulite at the front of my thighs to be reduced, but measurements have remained within my " normal range".  What I mean is that over a year my weight and therefore measurements fluctuate slightly.  I was expecting to see marked results, and have been advised that another 6 sessions may be needed to make this difference!

I am slightly irritated by the emphasis on diet whilst on the programme.  I used to be slim with excessive exercise and strict diet control, but am not in a position to follow such a regime any longer.  If I was, I wouldn't be undertaking hypoxi would I?

Thank you for the research artlcle-I wish I had found it before spending my money.    

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The question I would have is, what is the maximum diameter of the things they put around you?  If it is designed for thin people who want to lose 5 kg then it definitely sux.  Weight loss products should be designed for people who need to lose 80kg. 

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Andrew Rankin

Good article.

If Hypoxi works, why is there no decent empirical evidence to support it? I don't understand the need to "try it for yourself" - this proves nothing. I would like to be able to recommend Hypoxi to my clients, but cannot until there is proof that the benefits of Hypoxi are greater than diet and exercise alone. Diet and exercise is free, Hypoxi is not. In terms of value for money, I need to know not just that it's better, but exactly how much.

Dr Ben Goldacre would be the man to review this.

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I can appreciate the concern for thoroughness in scientific evaluation of anything. What I cannot appreciate is the attachment to small details such as "the forces of gravity", obviously a typo just like there are in your article above and perfectly understandable since the text you refer to was translated from German, probably by a non-scientist.

Mixing a typo with other, perhaps more relevant, observation to undermine the credibility of what is being said about the Salzburg paper is a small attitude.

I just love the many testimonials of success that were offered here. Nothing better than empirical evidence to prove something right.

Far too often in human history great revolutionary ideas were met by virulent negative reaction from the "established scientific community" that often even proved that they were wrong only to be overruled by evidence and history. Galileo was almost burned alive for daring to suggest the earth might circle the sun and not vice-versa. Einstein was called a clown when he first published his studies on relativity theory. I am not suggesting that the Hypoxi-Method is a comparable discovery. I am suggesting that people, scientists or not, should dedicate more energy and time to checking things out under the assumption that they might be right instead of immediately trying to kill them under the assumption that they are wrong.

Graham, try it for yourself and then tell us.

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Hi, My only problem is my stubborn thick waist and love handles - no amount of exercise has ever managed to get rid of my fat stomach.  I don't diet but eat sensibly and do cardio at least 3 times a week.  I've got a very open mind and will be trying Hypoxi soon. 

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Quote:I think you will find that this article is published on a website which is about looking at the statistics provided by companies in a scientific way. The article is simply about looking at how statistically valid the company's cliaims are. All products which advertise using statistics should be able to back this up with a properly conducted trial. The article does not say this is a bad product, it just says the research is not terribly well presented. I am delighted the product works for you, but please remember that this is not a personal dismissal of your experiences.

With all do respect, perhaps you need to try HYPOXI first before you ignorantly rank it as another bad apple in the bunch. 

I am actually trying HYPOXI, I just had my 14th session yesterday and I can almost see my full 6 packs after almost giving up on burning the fat over my abs muscles and getting rid of my love handles. 

I don't think because you heard or tried other methods that did not work, you are in any position to judge others just by reading about it.

So all I have to say, please learn to read the book first before you judge it by it's back cover text and place it on a bookshelf with the other mythological books!

Good luck!


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I have to agree that sensible diet and getting people of their back sides is the best long term solution. We all want fast resuls in our fast life and its clear quite a lot of us are prepared to pay a lot of money to get what we want quicker!

Why don't we all drop the intake of crisps and other processed foods and get off our backsides and walk a bit more. This has worked for me and all of my co-workers. Spend the money you would have spent on hypoxi on something nice for yourself or somone else in your life!


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