Obesity is in the press again. Shockingly, over a quarter of UK adults are clinically obese, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) are reminding the public that even ‘modest’ weight-loss can have significant health benefits. Over the years I have received many enquiries about and treated many patients for weight loss – some with success, some with failure. In my experience there tend to be two kinds of patients that successfully lose weight with acupuncture treatment. The first kind – and the great majority of people fit into this category in my opinion – are those who comfort-eat in order to switch off uncomfortable feelings. These people could just as easily be smoking, taking drugs (legal or otherwise), drinking or obsessively exercising to escape from their uncomfortable internal worlds – they just happen to have chosen the heavy, sweet sedation of carbohydrates as their self-medication. Acupuncture in such cases can be very helpful, but only if the weight problem is put into the context of the whole person. In Chinese medicine, emotions are seen to be a manifestation of the movement of qi, and because acupuncture moves and regulates qi – working at the ‘hinge’ of the mind and the body – it can help a person engage with and transform their difficult internal states. The second group of patients – and the great minority in my experience – are those with a defined metabolic problem that makes the excess weight stick. In such cases if the practitioner gets the correct diagnosis and treatment, Chinese medicine will ‘do what it says on the tin’ – the person’s metabolism will normalise and the weight will drop off.
With all of that said, there is of course no substitute to proper eating and exercising, and adjustments in this regard almost always need to be made. Such changes can be difficult for those who are governed by suppressed emotional pain, however, and for many this means a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting and self-condemnation. Some patients seem to look to acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a magic oriental panacea that will make them slim without disturbing the status quo in terms of their dysfunctional diet and lifestyle.
Despite all of the above, and to my surprise, some recent research has shown that a simple acupuncture protocol can indeed make you lose weight. This Austrian study randomly assigned 56 obese female patients to receive either ear acupuncture with electrical stimulation, or placebo electrical stimulation. The acupuncture points used were the ‘hunger’ point and points for the stomach and colon. Treatment was once a week for six weeks, after which the body weight of the acupuncture group was found to be significantly less than the placebo group. In addition the treatment group experienced a significant reduction in BMI compared to the placebo group. So, sometimes it really is as simple as the judicious insertion of a few needles … but not every time I wouldn’t bet …
This blog was prepared by Daniel Maxwell www.danielmaxwell.com