Acupuncture, used in traditional Chinese medicine, is a technique that stimulates strategic points on the body by using thin needles. The alternative practice is believed to rebalance the body's energy by diverting its flow.
Although some of you may be skeptical, many modern-day doctors use this technique to relieve pain by stimulating muscles and nerves, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Many studies about natural treatment have been conducted and research suggests that natural treatment can alleviate headaches, back pain, neck pain, PMS, and osteoarthritis.
Many doctors and researchers are looking into the other possible benefits of acupuncture. One potential use for acupuncture is weight loss. An acupuncturist and an obesity doctor recently weighed in on the topic. Here's what they had to say.
THEORY BEHIND ACUPUNCTURE & WEIGHT LOSS
"Acupuncture supports weight loss from many different angles," says Jennifer Oh, MS, an acupuncture practitioner in New York. She claims that acupuncture boosts metabolism by helping regulate digestion, insulin, and hormones.
This claim is based on the Chinese Medicine perspective where your metabolism can slow down if your digestive organs aren't working at the optimal rate.
In order to burn fat, your body requires energy. "If your metabolism is affected and your energy is low, your body goes into what I call 'low power mode,'" says Oh. This makes it more difficult for your body to lose weight.
Oh compared trigger points on the body to "on-off switches" for different systems in the body. The theory is that when you flip the switch on, your flow of energy is increased which subsequently causes your ability to burn fat to increase too. The sudden jolt of energy can also help suppress your appetite. "Hunger is a sign you are low in energy," says Oh. You shouldn't feel so hungry when those levels even out.
SCIENCE & ACUPUNCTURE
Researchers have other speculations regarding acupuncture and weight loss.
Acupuncture may reduce inflammation.
A small study was conducted in 2015, where 80 obese adults were given three to six months of acupuncture while eating a low-calorie diet. The treatment helped the people in the study reduce inflammation and lose weight.
In another similar study, researchers used a group of 161 obese adults. The adults were split into two groups; one group received an authentic acupuncture treatment while the other group received a sham placebo treatment. Both groups ate low-calorie diets and lost weight. The difference was that the group who received authentic acupuncture had improvements in certain inflammatory markers.
Acupuncture may reduce your hunger.
A study of 60 overweight people, published in Australian Family Physician, found that the participants who used an acupuncture simulation device for two weeks lost weight and reduced their appetite. The control group didn't experience any similar changes. This is believed to be caused by the release of serotonin. Serotonin, a chemical associated with decreasing your appetite, was triggered at specific points during acupuncture.
A smaller study of 10 people, published in BMJ Open Gastroenterology, discovered that the hunger hormone ghrelin could be decreased with just one week of acupuncture. Larger studies need to be conducted before we can completely understand the impacts of acupuncture on ghrelin.
Acupuncture may alleviate stress.
“Other theories explain the benefits of acupuncture on hormones such as cortisol and oxytocin, both of which affect weight and appetite,” said Nancy Rahnama, MD, a board-certified bariatric physician.
Studies have shown that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can have an effect on weight loss. Results from other studies examining the correlation between cortisol and acupuncture are ambiguous.
Acupuncture also has the potential to impact your endorphins, said Dr. Rahnama. “It has been explained that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to increase the release of endorphins, which can help decrease the appetite and improve the mood,” she said. This could also lead to weight loss because when you're happy, you're less likely to stress eat.
Does acupuncture actually help you lose weight?
Acupuncture may help you lose weight but is by no means the leading treatment for obesity. "While the research is limited and the evidence is mixed, it is compelling," said Dr. Rahnama. The problem is, the results of acupuncture and weight loss were only positive when the patients were using acupuncture as a supplement to a healthy lifestyle. Who's to say that their diet and exercise wasn't the sole cause of their weight loss. “When done correctly, acupuncture is a great supplement to a weight loss program, as patients have noticed a decrease in appetite, improved mood, and a decrease in stress,” Rahnama says. “However, acupuncture should not be the sole treatment for obesity.” Although some may say that the placebo effect may have had an impact, if it could help with weight loss then why not give acupuncture a try? “I say that any positive effect can help, whether it is placebo or not,” said Dr. Rahnama.
Use acupuncture as a supplement to your weight loss strategy.
If you aren't scared of needles or trying something new, acupuncture could be a great addition to your weight loss efforts. This being said, “relying on acupuncture alone can be a slow process, and thus, discouraging,” says Oh. To see the best results, Oh recommends treating your acupuncture treatments like personal training sessions. You'll be much happier with your results if, aside from your acupuncture treatments, you're eating healthy, exercising a few times a week, getting enough sleep, and finding time to relax every day.
“Natural, sustainable weight loss and healthy metabolism function involve a multidimensional mind-body-spirit understanding of the ways in which your emotions, beliefs, lifestyle, energy, and food all affect your body,” says Oh. She recommends that if you want to try it, find an acupuncturist that encourages those same values.
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