Assuming you are OK with needling and going for visits aren’t out of your budget, acupuncture for weight loss could be an option. Once considered alternative medicine, acupuncture is moving toward the mainstream and recommended by many doctors and may even be covered by insurance.
The practice involves inserting fine, clean needles along specific pathways on the body to improve chi or energy flow. It doesn’t encourage weight loss in isolation, but when combined with a reduced-calorie diet and regular exercise, women who got ear acupuncture weekly lost seven pounds more than their counterparts who only ate a reduced-calorie diet and exercised. The women getting acupuncture also reported feeling less hungry.
Here are some other surprising conditions that acupuncture can treat:
No doubt about it, stress—and the inability to cope with it—can cause people to reach for fattening comfort foods and abandon the things they know are good for them. So proven stress busters like exercise and meditation help weight loss. Yet, people still tend to turn to smoking, alcohol, and binge-watching TV.
So try acupuncture for weight loss and stress relief, mend your ways, and watch the pounds melt away: ‘When we are under stress, we produce excess amounts of the stress hormone cortisol and this pushes us in the direction of making unhealthy choices,’ says Tim Rhudy, MS, LAc, an acupuncturist in Delmar, New York. ‘Acupuncture slows cortisol production and can help reduce stress so you might be less likely to reach for that doughnut.’
Get more energy
This traditional Chinese medicine treatment works along with Western medicine—and can help treat a host of ailments that hinder weight loss efforts. ‘Because of the improvement in energy flow, people might be influenced to make better choices when it comes to eating, have less joint pain and inflammation, which can lead to improved performance, desire to exercise, and hormonal harmony affecting their metabolism, which can lead to weight loss,’ says Sharon Zarabi RD, CDN, CPT, director of the bariatric program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
This extra energy is also important for anyone who wants to keep the weight off, too, as it takes more energy to maintain than it does to lose weight.
Research out of Hong Kong Baptist University randomly assigned 72 overweight individuals to receive real acupuncture or sham acupuncture. Each participant underwent 16 sessions over eight weeks. Those who received real acupuncture lost an average of five pounds, with one patient losing 16 pounds.
By contrast, their counterparts in the sham group lost an average of just more than one pound. The researchers believe acupuncture for weight loss is possibly because of a boost in the production of the hormones serotonin and beta-endorphin, which can boost mood, suppress appetite, and increase the breakdown of fat.
Balance blood sugar
If you are concerned about maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, it’s important to be aware of unexpected factors that can spike your normal blood sugar. Research suggests a special type of acupuncture can help as well: When women who were overweight or obese and unable to exercise received electroacupuncture—acupuncture plus an electric current—they showed improvements in blood sugar levels, according to a study in The FASEB Journal.
‘When your blood sugar is balanced, it keeps your appetite regulated and you are not as hungry so you eat less,’ explains Boston-based nutritionist Dana Greene, RD.
If you’re restless, take a look at your diet: Food choices can affect the quality of your sleep. Good quality sleep is known to aid weight loss efforts, so, by association, anything that can improve sleep will have spillover benefits on your waistline. A review paper out of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine in China took a deep dive into 46 studies on acupuncture for insomnia and found that it appears to be an effective and safe way to help people sleep.
‘When you are sleep deprived, you have more ghrelin, the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and you also have less leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating,’ says Los Angeles sleep expert Michael J. Breus, PhD, the author of several books on sleep