It is well known that the obesity epidemic is one of the most critical health concerns plaguing the Western world. Obese and overweight individuals are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke than those maintaining a healthy weight. The search for long term weight solutions may drive some to try everything possible to drop the pounds quickly. One of the more unconventional treatments for weight loss is acupuncture, an ancient technique that has many purported health benefits. But does it actually work?
The Theory Behind the Needles
The theory and practice of acupuncture is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, or “TCM.” It is a comprehensive natural health care system that has been used in Asia for thousands of years. Practitioners of acupuncture stimulate “acupuncture points” found at specific locations on the surface of the body by inserting very thin needles through the skin. The general theory of acupuncture is that health depends on the circulation of vital energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”) through a network of channels or “meridians.” This network connects every organ and part of the body and regulates its physiological processes. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine excessive weight and ill-health result when the flow of Qi through the body is disrupted or blocked by various factors including poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle and a constitutional predisposition. The stimulation of acupuncture points helps restore the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body.
Slim As a Needle
A growing number of people are turning to acupuncture today to help with their weight loss journey. While the exact scientific mechanism behind acupuncture’s effectiveness for weight loss remains unknown, several theories have been proposed. The most widely accepted modern explanation involves the ability of acupuncture to modulate several important hormones including serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone) and leptin (the body’s satiety hormone). In addition to many anectodal reports of acupuncture’s effectiveness, research studies have confirmed that the stimulation of ear acupuncture points results in the suppression of appetite and significant weight loss in obese subjects. Other studies utilizing body acupuncture points have also demonstrated improvements in inflammation markers and cholesterol levels in addition to enhanced weight loss in patients.
Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine will conduct a thorough health history and assessment prior to beginning any treatment. The practitioner may also check the pulse and tongue of the patient to pinpoint specific imbalances in the body and aid in specific point selection. During an acupuncture treatment specific points are selected by the practitioner depending on the patient’s specific healthcare concerns. The procedure is virtually painless although a slight “pricking’ sensation may be felt upon needle insertion. After the needles are inserted the treatment usually lasts from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Recipients of regular treatments often report a feeling of calmness and “grounding” as an added benefit.
The effects of acupuncture are cumulative and a number of treatments is recommended to experience tangible results. A typical course of treatment may be weekly sessions for 8-12 weeks followed by less regular maintenance sessions.
Play It Safe
Although side effects from acupuncture are rare, it is important to choose a knowledgeable and experienced acupuncturist to avoid any mishaps. In Ontario, Naturopathic Doctors receive 4 years of training in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture and undergo many written as well as practical examinations in its practice. Some uncommon side effects of treatment may include bruising or “phantom needle sensation” at the acupuncture site for a short while after treatment. It is also important to note that this treatment needs to be incorporated with other diet and lifestyle changes to obtain optimal results.
Dr. Yelena Deshko ND is a leader in the field of naturopathic intravenous (IV) therapy in Toronto, Canada. She is a general family practitioner with a special interest in integrative oncology, anti-aging medicine, and hormonal health. Dr. Deshko combines traditional and conventional medicine in her practice, including acupuncture, botanical medicine as well as diet and lifestyle counseling. She is the founder of Timeless Health Center.