Acupuncture for Weight Loss: Can Acupuncture Help You Lose Weight? - Parade Magazine
By Lisa Mulcahy
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If you’ve tried a handful of methods to lose weight, from cutting calories and using a weight loss app to starting a new workout routine but you’re still not seeing the numbers on the scale move, you might be in the mood for a whole new approach.
So, why not try acupuncture? If you’ve had acupuncture to complement treatment of a medical condition or injury and experienced some good healing, you might be thinking, hey, losing weight is a physical process—can acupuncture help me accomplish that, too?
The answer is a definite mixed bag, with more research needed to come to a definitive conclusion.
There is some interesting information surrounding it, though, so read on to find out what the experts think about acupuncture’s potential role in helping you shed unwanted weight so you can decide if incorporating it into your weight loss plan feels right for you.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is one of the foundations of Chinese medicine, and its main purpose is balancing your body by letting energy flow freely through your system. Needles are applied to various but intentional points on your body to stimulate them.
Acupuncture can be used to manage pain, help alleviate migraines, anxiety, GI problems (including nausea), and allergies, and many women turn to it when dealing with fertility issues. Acupuncture can also be used as a tool in preventing disease, and is thought by some to be an immunity booster.
Despite the needles, acupuncture is an easy comfortable process for the most part. “In general, it’s safe,” says American College Of Sports Medicine Fellow Dr. Adam Tenforde, MD, FACSM and director of running medicine at Spaulding National Running Center in Boston and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School’s department of physical medicine and rehabilitation. “Your practitioner should be using one-use needles in a sterile environment. The risk of complications like skin infections or injury is low, as the needles are small. You should not experience any major side effects—some people feel tired after a session, and there could be a little bruising, as the needles are placed under your skin.”
Acupuncture is often described as energy boosting post-procedure, too.
Related: Is Acupuncture Painful? All Your Questions About The Chinese Medicine Practice, Answered
What the science says about acupuncture for weight loss
There has not been a tremendous amount of research conducted on the relationship between acupuncture and weight loss, but a few recent studies have shed light on some of the potential benefits of acupuncture for weight loss.
Researchers from the Institute of Digestive Diseases, Longhua Hospital, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine reviewed 21 different studies with almost 1400 participants, and determined that acupuncture can be effective for treating obesity thanks to how acupuncture impacts the body’s neuroendocrine function.
The results of another study found that while acupuncture may work as a tool in weight maintenance, they didn’t find much benefit from acupuncture for weight loss. Still another study found that when acupuncture is done on the ear, it could be correlated with a reduced BMI—but the researchers did state that this benefit may only occur when combined with lifestyle modification, tools, like eating a health diet and exercising,
Related: Looking To Drop A Few Pounds This Year? Try Yoga For Weight Loss
As a whole, though, health professionals tend not to consider acupuncture as a weight loss tool in the traditional sense.
“Typically, acupuncture is used as an alternative medicine treatment to manage pain associated with certain musculoskeletal injuries. Aside from that use as a therapy, I’m not familiar with the benefits of acupuncture as a means of promoting or facilitating weight loss or management,” says Peter Ronai, MS, ACSM-CEP, a clinical professor in the Exercise Science Department at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Should you factor acupuncture into your weight loss plan?
The main thing to keep in mind is that acupuncture as a mechanism has not been found to burn fat or calories in any way.
For that to happen, you need to get moving. “To lose weight, you could consider adding 150 minutes of exercise a week to your schedule,” says Dr. Tenforde. “This will increase your metabolism, and if you happen to be less active and experience any pain or injury, acupuncture could be helpful in that situation.”
Related: A New Study Says Tai Chi Is An Effective Way to Lose Belly Fat
Although we’ve seen that there’s some research indicating the possibility that acupuncture can have a positive effect on curbing appetite, if you decide to try it, that doesn’t mean you should ease up on eating healthy food.
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The right way to think of acupuncture for weight loss? It’s a way to make your body feel better as you put that effort into taking off the pounds. “If you look at acupuncture in isolation, you miss the bigger picture,” says Dr. Tenforde. “Acupuncture can be a nice way to help you out with pain you may have from exercising to lose weight. It can help with other aspects of weight loss, such as issues like improving your mood. But in sports medicine, it is not seen as a standard therapy to help you physically lose weight.”
Next up, here’s everything you need to know about how to lose weight on the keto diet.
- Adam Tenforde, MD, FACSM fellow, director of running medicine at Spaulding National Running Center in Boston and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School’s department of physical medicine and rehabilitation
- Peter Ronai, MS, ACSM-CEP, ACSM-EP, CSCS, FACSM, who is a clinical professor in the Exercise Science Department at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT
- “Acupuncture on Obesity: Clinical Evidence and Possible Neuroendocrine Mechanisms.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.
- “Accpuncture and weight loss in Asians, A PRIMSMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis.” Medicine.
- “Effect of acupuncture and intervention types on weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Obesity Review.