Does Acupuncture for Weight Loss Work?
Many patients ask about using acupuncture for weight loss. But although this therapy can be helpful, it is not a case of simply having a few treatments and watching the pounds fall off.
As with any weight loss program, acupuncture for weight loss only works in combination with a calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise. Here’s the reason why:
At first glance the equation for losing weight is quite simple. You need to consume fewer calories than you expend in the form of physical activity.
Calories are the unit of measurement for energy. If you consume more calories from food than you burn in a day, you will gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than you need, you will lose weight. This is because when you don’t get enough energy from food, your body starts to use up its fat reserves instead.
But although the idea behind weight loss is straightforward, it is sometimes easier said than done. Some people find that despite eating a low-calorie diet and exercising, they still struggle to lose weight.
The reason for this is likely some kind of hormonal imbalance. Common issues include conditions such as diabetes, PCOS, and underactive thyroid. People with these conditions can have a tough time losing weight, even if they do all the right things.
This is where acupuncture could help. In order to fully understand, let’s take a look at how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views the issue of body weight.
How Chinese Medicine Views Body Weight
In TCM, there are various different body types or ‘constitutions.’ Some of these constitutions are more prone to gaining weight than others.
Some people tend to feel hot and bothered much of the time. These people are likely to feel irritable, unable to relax, and spend a lot of time fidgeting. This is considered a more yang body type.
Others tend to have lower energy and feel cold much of the time. These people can often seem sluggish and have hard time getting motivated. This is considered a more yin body type.
If you look at the habits of these two constitutional types, it should come as no surprise that those with more yin body types are more likely to be overweight.
In TCM terms, this is because the digestive organs need sufficient yang energy to convert food into energy. If this yang is lacking, food is not digested properly, which can lead to weight gain.
Furthermore, the liquids from food and drink can remain in the body where they are transformed into dampness. This dampness causes swelling and puffiness, and makes the digestive process even harder.
This triggers a vicious cycle. The more weight you gain, the more difficult it becomes to digest food properly. And the more difficult it is to digest food, the more likely you are to gain weight.
Fortunately, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help to break the cycle. They work to support digestion, remove excessive dampness from the body, boost yang energy, and aid weight loss.
However, these therapies will only work if you give them a helping hand. That means that you still need to watch what you eat and do enough exercise, even if you are using acupuncture for weight loss.
Can Acupuncture Control Your Appetite?
Another way that acupuncture may be able to help with weight loss is by reducing the appetite. There are points on the ears that are used specifically for this purpose. Your acupuncturist can show you how to find these points, and you can massage them yourself whenever you have a food craving.
Of course, if you are hungry, you still need to eat. However, if you are someone who eats out of boredom or when you feel emotionally low, massaging these points could really help. Sometimes, taking a few minutes to just ask yourself “am I really hungry?” can be enough to initiate new habits that will help you to shed the pounds.
Studies on Acupuncture for Weight Loss
There is not a great deal of research on acupuncture for weight loss, but a couple of studies suggest that it could help.
One 2015 study looked at 80 patients who received acupuncture for 3–6 months, combined with a low-calorie diet. The results were positive, and in addition to losing weight, the participants also experienced reduced inflammation.
Chronic inflammation has a close relationship with obesity. Experts believe that it plays a role in the development of many serious health conditions. These include arthritis, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and some forms of cancer. Therefore, acupuncture could offer many benefits beyond weight loss.
These results were supported by a 2018 meta-analysis of 21 studies and 1389 participants. The study found that acupuncture provided significant reductions in body mass index, body weight, body fat, and total cholesterol.
The authors suggested that acupuncture for weight loss may work by influencing the neuroendocrine system to balance hormones and neurotransmitters. By doing this, it could help to control the appetite and improve blood sugar levels by regulating insulin.
How to Make Acupuncture for Weight Loss More Effective
Acupuncture could play a role in helping weight loss, but it is not a miracle cure. Here are a few steps you can take to boost its effectiveness:
Firstly, ask your acupuncturist to discuss your diet. Weight loss is not just linked to how much you eat, but also what you eat. It is essential that you eat the right type of food for your body type, as what suits one person will not necessarily be right for the next.
Exercise is also important as it increases yang energy in the body and helps your digestive organs to function. You don’t necessarily need to run a marathon every day. Just find something which you enjoy and can stick to in the long term. Even walking for 20–30 minutes a day will help.
Finally, be patient. Acupuncture for weight loss is a gentle treatment and will not work overnight. However, if you are willing to persist and put in some effort, you should begin to see results within a few months.