When every diet out there has failed you and hitting the gym has done all it can, acupuncture may be worth a shot.
by Denise Mann, MS
Acupuncture works. Assuming you are OK with needling and going for visits isn’t out of your budget, acupuncture for weight loss could be an option. Once considered alternative medicine, acupuncture is moving toward the mainstream and recommended by many doctors and may even be covered by insurance.
The practice involves inserting fine, clean needles along specific pathways on the body to improve chi or energy flow. It doesn’t encourage weight loss in isolation, but when combined with a reduced calorie diet and regular exercise, women who got ear acupuncture weekly lost seven pounds more than their counterparts who only ate a reduced calorie diet and exercised. The women getting acupuncture also reported feeling less hungry.
But acupuncture can do even more: it helps you to reduce stress. No doubt about it, stress—and the inability to cope with it—can cause people to reach for fattening comfort foods and abandon the things they know are good for them. So proven stress busters like exercise and meditation help weight loss. Yet, people still tend to turn to smoking, alcohol, and binge watching TV. So try acupuncture for weight loss and stress relief, mend your ways, and watch the pounds melt away: “When we are under stress, we produce excess amounts of the stress hormone cortisol and this pushes us in the direction of making unhealthy choices,” says Tim Rhudy, MS, LAc , an acupuncturist in Delmar, New York. “Acupuncture slows cortisol production and can help reduce stress so you might be less likely to reach for that donut”.
But stress is just one of the things that could be sabotaging your weight loss. Acupuncture works along with Western medicine—and can help treat a host of ailments that hinder weight loss efforts. “Because of the improvement in energy flow, people might be influenced to make better choices when it comes to eating, have less joint pain and inflammation which can lead to improved performance, desire to exercise, and hormonal harmony affecting their metabolism which can lead to weight loss,” says Sharon Zarabi RD, CDN, CPT , director of the bariatric program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
This extra energy is also important for anyone who wants to keep the weight off, too, as it takes more energy to maintain than it does to lose weight. Control appetite research out of Hong Kong Baptist University randomly assigned 72 overweight individuals to receive real acupuncture or sham acupuncture. Each participant underwent 16 sessions over eight weeks. Those who received real acupuncture lost an average of five pounds, with one patient losing 16 pounds. By contrast, their counterparts in the sham group lost an average of just more than one pound.
The researchers believe that acupuncture for weight loss is possible because of a boost in the production of the hormones serotonin and beta-endorphin, which can boost mood, suppress appetite, and increase the breakdown of fat.
Balance blood sugar
If you are concerned about maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, it’s important to be aware of unexpected factors that can spike your normal blood sugar. Research suggests a special type of acupuncture can help as well: When women who were overweight or obese and unable to exercise received electroacupuncture—acupuncture plus an electric current—they showed improvements in blood sugar levels, according to a study in The FASEB Journal. “When your blood sugar is balanced, it keeps your appetite regulated and you are not as hungry so you eat less,” explains Boston-based nutritionist Dana Greene , RD. People with diabetes specifically need to watch their blood sugar levels, and they should know which drinks are OK and which should be avoided
Inflammation is linked to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes—and if weight is your concern, you’ll definitely want to look for healthy foods that fight inflammation. And then consider acupuncture: A 2016 study found that the stimulation of certain nerves via acupuncture could lower inflammation throughout the body. Another study, published in the Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences , found that acupuncture could tamp down inflammation and alter body composition in people who are obese. Eighty people received acupuncture treatments for three to six months while they adhered to a low-calorie diet plan. Participants used acupuncture for weight loss and showed significant decreases in creatinine and uric acid levels (an indicator of kidney function) and blood fats including cholesterol and triglycerides. “They believed the effects of acupuncture were at least partially due to improvements in pro-inflammatory markers like high sensitivity C-reactive protein, which has been found to be positively correlated with abdominal fat,” says Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, founder of DrAxecom , author of Eat Dirt and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition.