InBody BIA Technology
InBody devices use a method called Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) to measure body composition, which divides your weight into different components such as lean body mass and fat mass to assess health and nutrition. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) measures impedance by applying alternating currents on the human body.
The Human Body and Impedance
To better illustrate how this works, imagine the flow of cars in traffic. Your car is the voltage source or current, and the highway you’re on is body water. If there were no other cars, you could zoom past the highway, just as if the human body were full of body water and nothing else, there would be no resistance. But water is not the only element in the human body, just like you’re not the only car on the freeway. As more cars get onto the freeway, the longer it takes for you to get through the path, creating resistance. Other elements such as fat, muscle, bone, and minerals create resistance to the electrical current that is going through your body.
In BIA, the more water that is in your body, the lesser the resistance. The muscle in your body contains water, unlike fat, so the more muscle you have, the more body water. And the more body water you have, the lesser the resistance on the electrical current
Four Pillars of Technology
InBody’s medical-grade body composition analyzers rely on four pillars of technology to provide clients with accurate and precise direct segmental measurement multi-frequency bioelectrical impedance analysis (DSM-MFBIA) results that have been extensively validated to gold-standard methods.
System with Thumb Electrodes
When the human body comes in contact with an electrode, contact resistance occurs. When measuring the resistance in the human body, it is important to control this contact resistance
Leveraging on the ergonomic characteristics of the human body, when an InBody user holds around the hand electrode, current flows from the electrode and voltage is measured at the electrode touched by the thumb.
As the measurement is always taken at the same location on the wrist, this design boasts a high level of reproducibility. Accurate measurement is made possible as there is no interference of the contact resistance the skin regardless of the contact points on the hand.
This works the same way the foot electrode, where current flows from the front sole electrode and voltage is measured at the rear sole electrode. Measurement is always taken at the ankle level.
The 8-point touch electrode method using the thumb electrode is a unique feature of InBody devices that produces an exceptionally high reproducibility rate in results.
The 8 points of contact come from the two thumb electrodes, two palm electrodes, two sole electrodes, and two heel electrodes.
The anatomical design of the hand electrode creates a simple holding position that is easy to reproduce. Using a voltage thumb electrode ensures that current measurement always starts at the wrist, same measurement values are returned even when the patient changes the holding position of the electrode or the contact points on the hand.
Competitors’ products that imitate this technology usually lack the thumb electrode and have a measurement start button in its place. In this case, both the current electrode and the voltage electrode come in contact with the palm and therefore measurement starting point is not always the same as the electrode is held in different positions.
Direct Segmental Measurements
Traditional BIA systems view the human body as a single cylinder of water, using whole-body impedance to determine total body water.
However, this method had a number of flaws: It assumes the distribution of lean body mass and body fat across all segments of the body are constant. The shape & length of the arms, legs, and torso differ so the body cannot be seen as just one cylinder but actually as five separate parts. Since impedance is based on length and cross-sectional area, the calculation of TBW is inaccurate because each segment of the body has different length and cross-sectional area.
One of the biggest problems with the one-cylinder method is the lack of a torso measurement. The torso has the lowest length and highest cross-sectional area, which results in a very low impedance (typically 10-40 ohms). However, the trunk comprises about 50% of an individual’s lean body mass (LBM).
In the whole-body impedance measurement, the torso impedance is ignored and thus the change of the body torso impedance is underestimated. A change of the torso impedance by 5 ohm is actually a huge difference, but it is shown as less than 1% of difference in the whole-body impedance measurement.
In other words, if the body torso is not separately measured, the body torso’s impedance could be overlooked. But as the body torso makes up more than half of our body weight, we can say that the whole-body impedance measurement ignores half of the entire body.
As the body torso contains much more water and muscles than the limbs, 1 ohm of torso impedance and 1 ohm of limb impedance can have different implications altogether. Because each ohm represents a large amount of LBM, a difference of even 1-2 ohms can lead to great error in the determination of TBW.
Some BIA devices only measure the impedance values of two cylinders and estimate the rest. For BIA scales, only your leg values are measured. For BIA handheld devices, only your arm values are measured. Some BIA devices that say they measure the whole body actually only measure an arm and a leg and estimate the rest of the body.
When using a BIA device, it’s important to find a device that actually measures the torso and measures it separately, not estimating the values of what it could be. Otherwise, the estimations are leading to large errors in total body water and in turn fat-free mass and lean body mass.
With InBody, there’s no estimating through Direct Segmental Multi-frequency BIA, which in simpler terms, simply means that each segment of your body (right arm, left arm, torso, right leg, left leg) are all measured separately at multiple frequencies.
InBody uses varying high and low frequencies to measure intracellular and extracellular water for the most precise total body water analysis. The use of multiple frequencies make InBody devices accurate enough to be trusted for use in the medical field.
Early BIA devices only used the frequency of 50 kHz to calculate total body water. Water is stored throughout the body, and total body water (TBW) can be divided into 2 compartments:
Intracellular water (ICW) – inside cells of muscles, bones, organs, etc.
Extracellular water (ECW) – water in the blood & interstitial fluids
However, 50 kHz or lower barely pasess through the cell membrane and cannot give an accurate measurement of intracellular water. Therefore, the intracellular water had to be estimated by calculating it proportionally based on the extracellular water.
The estimation of intracellular water was possible because the typical ratio of intracellular water to extracellular water is about 3:2. However, elderly and obese patients who require body composition analysis tend to have high ratio of extracellular water, nullifying the 3:2 ratio.
Thus, when measuring patients, estimating the intracellular water based on the extracellular water with a 3:2 ratio could result in a serious error.
InBody uses multiple currents at varying frequencies to provide the most precise body water analysis. Electric currents penetrate differently, depending on the frequency. Some frequencies are better suited for measuring body water outside the cell, while others can pass through cell membranes to measure total body water.
In other words, a high-frequency current can pass through the cell membrane well, making it possible to measure both the intra and extracellular water. Inversely, a low-frequency current hardly passes through the cell membrane. Therefore, it tend to flow through extracellular water, measuring extracellular water.
InBody is capable of measuring both the intracellular water and extracellular water as it utilizes multi frequencies from 1 kHz to 1 MHz.
Considering that the degree of penetration through the cell membrane differs by frequency, intracellular water can be obtained by direct measurement instead of assumption. Using multi frequencies provides much more detailed analysis of individual body composition.
By differentiating intracellular water and extracellular water, edema index and other figures can be obtained. This allows the body composition analyzer to be applied in nephrology and rehabilitation area.
No Estimations or Empirical Equations
BIA devices commonly use empirical equations to calculate a user’s body composition because most BIA devices use whole-body impedance. These equations help compensate for the lack of torso impedance measurement by plugging in empirical data such as age and gender.
Empirical equations can give a somewhat accurate estimate of a user’s body composition if the user has a typical body shape for their specific age, gender, and ethnicity. These equations take into consideration that as a person ages, their muscle mass will probably decrease and that males tend to have more muscle mass than females.
However, plugging data into an equation does not mean that your specific body composition is being measured. What if you’re an elderly female bodybuilder? In reality, you probably have more muscle mass than others in your age and gender group, but the empirical estimations will calculate otherwise.
The problem with empirical estimations is that you’re put into a preconstructed equation that estimates what your body composition. Your results are always predetermined, regardless of your actual body composition.
Here’s a sample empirical equation created by Lukaski in 1988 using height, body weight, impedance, age and gender to calculate total body water:
TBW = 0.377 H2/R + 0.14 weight – 0.08 age + 2.9 gender + 4.65
InBody does not need to use empirical equations to calculate your results because InBody body composition analyzers measure your entire body into 5 cylinders, giving you the torso measurement separate from the rest of the body. Your body composition is determined solely by using the impedance values found from each of the body’s five segments and your height.
You will get the same body composition measurements for muscle mass, fat mass, etc. whether the user is entered as male or female because Inbody measures you for you.
How can you determine if your BIA device uses empirical estimations? Try testing a user twice back-to-back by switching the age or the gender.
If the device yields two different results, it uses empirical estimations. These BIA devices are programmed to always output data that shows that males have more muscle mass than females– regardless of what is actually true.