Chinese acupuncture is finally getting under the skin of dieters by tapping into the body’s many hidden energy meridians. The ancient practice of acupuncture helps to heal a host of ailments, and practitioners of Western medicine now embrace it to quell chronic pain, postoperative pain, nausea and vomiting, high blood pressure, addictions and weight loss. When fine needles are barely inserted into the skin along strategic points on the body it can restore balance to the flow of energy along rivers of Qi (pronounced chee), or life force.
There are many reasons people become overweight – hormone imbalances, slowed metabolism, overeating, poor nutrition and lack of exercise are some of the most common.
Using acupuncture to tackle weight loss is a multi-pronged approach.
The rationale for using acupuncture for weight control is based in the premise that weight gain could be the result of disturbed energy flow to and from the regulating center of the brain, called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is responsible for maintaining “homeostasis” or functional balance that allows the body to run like a finely tuned instrument. It is the body’s dispatch center that regulates hormones and neurochemicals, and helps to control body temperature, circadian rhythm, thirst and hunger.
Of particular interest is the ability of acupuncture to influence obesity hormones. Research measuring the effectiveness of acupuncture for weight loss found treatments increased ghrelin, a hormone that controls meal initiation and decreased leptin, the hormone that regulates fat storage and metabolism.
The guiding principal is that acupuncture can power up any other weight control strategy by curbing appetite, quelling cravings, boosting metabolism, improving digestion, regulating obesity-related hormones and enhancing the way nutrients are used. It also strengthens the function of the liver, the organ that produces many chemicals critical for digestion, processing nutrients and breaking down of fats. Acupuncture may also increase tone in the smooth muscle of the stomach to help people know that they are full.
To pinpoint the Qi for effective weight control, acupuncturists take aim at 4 acupuncture points on the ear – the hunger point, Shen Men point, stomach point, and endocrine point. A few tiny sterilized needles are inserted along these invisible channels to decrease the “heat” generated along these meridians and to stimulate centers that trigger the release of neurochemicals and hormones.
During some courses of treatment, the needles are covered with tape so that they can be left in place for a few days. Patients later remove them at home or during follow-up visits to the acupuncturist. Some practitioners may also use “ear seeds” that patient wear home that can be massaged periodically to help with difficult-to-control urges.