How Can Acupuncture Assist with Weight Loss?
Mounting medical research shows acupuncture can help with weight loss. Acupuncture has several positive, systemic effects on the body, such as better hormone and metabolism regulation. Both can influence weight loss or gain.
This is just one example. There are several ways acupuncture treatment can improve weight loss effectiveness. For example:
1) Acupuncture Can Reduce Appetite and Improve Digestion
Multiple studies show that auricular (ear) acupuncture can help control cravings, including food cravings. In fact, some of the same points are used to help patients quit smoking.
When acupuncture needles are used on the outer ear, they stimulate the hypothalamus into modulating two important hormones – ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” for the role it plays in driving appetite. As ghrelin levels in the body rise, hunger sensations become more intense. Reducing ghrelin levels can reduce those sensations, helping patients eat less.
Diet, exercise, and proper sleep can all help control ghrelin levels, but acupuncture treatments are also helpful.
Leptin performs the opposite role of ghrelin. Produced by adipose (fat) tissue, leptin suppresses appetite, telling your brain that you already have enough energy, so additional calories aren’t needed. As such, high levels of leptin can also help with weight loss. Auricular acupuncture boosts leptin levels, which also keeps hunger pangs under control.
2) Acupuncture Can Regulate Hormone Levels
In addition to ghrelin and leptin, acupuncture can balance out many other hormones. Some of these hormones, such as those produced by the thyroid, are linked to metabolism and weight gain/loss.
Over many centuries, Chinese medicine has mapped out where the most effective points are for hormone control. By targeting these points during treatment, your acupuncturist can restore ideal hormone levels, and better metabolism as a result.
3) Acupuncture Can Help Control Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Inflammation via oxidative stress is believed to be connected to weight gain and obesity. Research shows that chronic inflammation can interfere with some of the bodily processes responsible for weight control. It can also increase the risk for many health disorders, including cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease, and heart disease.
One example of this is insulin resistance. Chronic inflammation interferes with insulin expression, increasing blood glucose levels. As blood glucose increases, it becomes more difficult for the body to metabolize carbohydrates, leading to additional fat storage and weight gain.
Another example is leptin resistance. Multiple studies have drawn a link between chronic inflammation and leptin resistance. Research shows that most obese people have developed some degree of leptin resistance, suggesting a link to weight gain.
Acupuncture is a known inflammation-reducer. Recent studies have begun to shed light on how treatment helps with inflammation. One recent study, for example, shows that acupuncture activates unique neuronal pathways that can suppress inflammation. This can help better overall health generally, while helping patients meet their weight loss goals.
4) Acupuncture Can Reduce Anxiety and Stress Eating
Most acupuncture patients consider treatment to be relaxing. This may be due to acupuncture’s effect on the parasympathetic system – the part of the nervous system responsible for activating the body’s “rest and digest” response. This places the body in a low-stress state that’s ideal for recovery.
Acupuncture also stimulates the release of endorphins, which are feel-good biochemicals that boost mood and suppress pain signaling.
Together, these stress-reduction factors can help people deal with the mental side of weight loss, including craving and stress-related overeating.
What the Medical Studies Say About Acupuncture for Weight Loss
There is medical evidence supporting the above benefits. A few of the standout studies include:
- A 2017 study published in Acupuncture and Electro-Therapeutics Research. This study considered the effects of auricular acupuncture on weight loss, compared to body acupuncture. The research team split a group of 50 obese women into two even groups. One group received auricular acupuncture at points specified for weight loss, while the other group received body acupuncture. Each group received six acupuncture sessions and follow-up was at 12 weeks. At follow-up, the group that received auricular acupuncture had lost an additional eight pounds, on average, compared to the body acupuncture group.
- A 2019 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This animal study targeted 10 acupuncture points on rat subjects and found that after multiple rounds of acupuncture, they expressed lower levels of ghrelin and higher levels of leptin.
- A 2021 study published in Nature that also used rat subjects. This study was focused on acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory effects. During the study, the research team identified a neuronal pathway in the rats’ hindlegs that could activate the vagal pathway and reduce cytokine expression – a known cause of chronic inflammation. By suppressing the inflammation response in this way, acupuncture can help the body maintain ideal weight loss conditions.
Research Shows That Acupuncture Can Help with Weight Loss
Acupuncture’s advantage in medicine is its ability to support health using a systemic approach. Since obesity can be caused by a confluence of factors, acupuncture is well-suited for resolving many of its causes. If you’re struggling with weight loss, consider scheduling an appointment with a licensed Houston acupuncturist. Even better, choose a Houston acupuncturist that is certified in both Chinese medicine and western, allopathic medicine.