Can acupuncture help you lose weight?
Acupuncture has long been heralded as an effective form of alternative medicine to help relieve pain, sickness and ailments like headaches, but does it work for weight loss?
Here, the lowdown on acupuncture. Plus, Dr Sarah Brewer – Prima's resident doctor and medical director of Healthspan – gives her verdict on whether acupuncture works for weight loss.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a type of alternative medicine, based on traditional Chinese medicine where fine needles are inserted into the body.
Auricular acupuncture, which is often linked to weight loss, focuses on points in the ear that are said to reduce appetite and alleviate anxiety and stress that can be linked to comfort eating.
How does acupuncture work?
Traditional acupuncture is based on the idea that Qi (pronounced 'Chee'), or life force, flows through the body's channels or meridians.
According to the NHS website, "Western medical acupuncture is the use of acupuncture following a medical diagnosis. It involves stimulating sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles of the body. This results in the body producing natural substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins. It's likely that these naturally released substances are responsible for the beneficial effects experienced with acupuncture."
What is acupuncture used for?
Acupuncture is only currently used to treat chronic headaches, including migraines, and musculoskeletal problems such as neck and joint pain on the NHS. It is not prescribed for weight loss.
How long does an acupuncture session last?
GPs, private acupuncture practitioners and physiotherapists usually perform an initial consultation which lasts between 30 and 40 minutes. They will then recommend a course of up to 10 sessions.
Does acupuncture work for weight loss?
Dr Sarah Brewer says: "Acupuncture, like any complementary therapy or supplement used to aid weight loss will only work when combined with a healthy diet and increased physical activity.
"Some evidence suggests that acupuncture may help to stimulate metabolism, reduce appetite and lower levels of stress hormones (which have effects on fat burning, snacking and food choices)," she adds.
"A large analysis of 29 randomised controlled trials (the gold standard research method) involving 2,219 people, found that, compared to lifestyle changes alone, acupuncture was associated with a significantly greater weight loss of 1.56kg compared to placebo or sham treatments.
"Acupuncture alone was not more effective than sham acupuncture alone. In addition, acupuncture was only effective in those who were overweight (and used additional lifestyle modification) not in those who were classed as obese. Auricular acupuncture, in which studs placed against the ear are stimulated, is the most common form of acupuncture for weight loss."
It's important to note that the NHS does not recommend auricular acupuncture for weight loss, and scientific studies have proved inconclusive.