If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably doing your best to eat in a calorie deficit and exercise regularly. While other lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress levels certainly play a role, combining your efforts with visits to a licensed acupuncturist might also contribute to your weight-loss success.
In particular, a form of acupuncture known as auricular acupuncture could be most helpful. It stimulates pressure points on the ears and has been used in China for generations for many purposes, including appetite suppression.“Hundreds of studies and thousands of patients have found it to be a great component and adjunctive therapy for weight loss,” says Carlos Chapa, ND, president of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Recent research shows auricular acupuncture may help with weight loss. A Turkish study compared the effectiveness of auricular acupuncture to body acupuncture in obese women and found women who received auricular acupuncture treatments lost weight more effectively (roughly 8 pounds more than those who did regular body acupuncture). Taiwanese researchers reviewed 18 previously published studies in which overweight and obese people received auricular acupuncture and found the treatment helped people lose weight and body fat, as well as reduce their body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.
Some Australian research suggests auricular acupuncture may stimulate the vagus nerve, which may help suppress appetite. Similarly, a Japanese study suggested auricular acupuncture lowers the production of ghrelin, a hormone which stimulates appetite, thus contributing to weight loss.
The technique may have other related effects on hormones and appetite. “Patients who received auricular acupuncture found positive changes in their leptin, ghrelin, insulin and cholecystokinin, assisting in weight loss through proper hunger regulation and satiety cycles,” says Lindy Camardella, an Illinois-based licensed acupuncturist and the external communications chair for the American Society of Acupuncturists.
OTHER HEALTH-RELATED BENEFITS FROM ACUPUNCTURE
Auricular acupuncture may also lead to stress reduction, which can help with weight loss. “One large piece is helping bring the body into the parasympathetic mode of relaxation,” says Camardella. “The parasympathetic state promotes healing within the body as opposed to the sympathetic ‘fight or flight mode,’ where the body releases more [of the stress hormone] cortisol.”
“It is not uncommon for people to start acupuncture treatments for some other concern [such as back or knee pain], and then learn how it can help with overall health and weight loss,” says Camardella. “It is often the feeling of well-being from acupuncture-related increases in serotonin and dopamine (aka the feel-good hormones) that gives people the motivation to start making healthy changes and stay the course.”
HOW TO FIND A QUALIFIED PRACTITIONER
If you’re interested in trying auricular acupuncture for weight loss, it’s important to find a qualified acupuncturist. “Some states have zero standards, where anyone can ‘do’ acupuncture,” says Chapa. “A qualified practitioner usually has the initials ‘LAc’ after their name, meaning ‘licensed acupuncturist.’ To get this, one must have a postgraduate medical degree from an accredited school and passed state [or] national boards.”
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The ideal acupuncturist is also someone who is comfortable communicating with your doctor. “Acupuncturists are team players and always willing to work with your other healthcare providers,” says Camardella. “Find a provider who is willing to share what you are working on with your primary-care physician.”
To find a practitioner of auricular acupuncture in your area, use search engines from the American Society of Acupuncturists or the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“Don’t expect a magic bullet with acupuncture,” says Chapa. “It’s a great adjunct and complementary treatment to help the person reach their goals, but research suggests regular treatments are essential [at least 6–8 weeks] along with other diet and exercise changes.” You’ll have greater success if you approach weight loss holistically and focus on making small changes that add up over time.
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