When every diet out there has failed you and hitting the gym has done all it can, acupuncture may be worth a shot.
Assuming you are OK with needling and going for visits aren't out of your budget, acupuncture can play a role in weight loss. 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. Proven stress busters include exercise, meditation, these instant stress management tips, and acupuncture. Yet people still tend to turn to smoking, alcohol, and binge watching TV. So try acupuncture to ease your stress, 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, NY. "Acupuncture slows cortisol production and can help reduce stress so you might be less likely to reach for that donut.
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.
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 that acupuncture may boost the production of the hormones serotonin and beta-endorphin, which can boost mood, suppress appetite, and increase the breakdown of fat. Smelling these foods can also help you lose weight for some of the same reasons.
Balance blood sugar
If you are concerned about maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, it's important to be aware of these 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.
Inflammation is linked to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes—and if weight is your concern, you'll definitely want to look for healthy foods that fight inflammation. And then consider acupuncture: A 2015 published in the Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences found that acupuncture could tamp down inflammation and alter body composition in people who are obese. Eighty people received acupuncture treatments for three to six months while they adhered to a low-calorie diet plan. Participants lost body fat following acupuncture, and showed significant decreases in creatinine and uric acid levels (an indicator of kidney function) and blood fats including cholesterol and triglycerides. "They believed the effects of acupuncture were at least partially due to improvements in pro-inflammatory markers like high sensitivity C-reactive protein, which has been found to be positively correlated with abdominal fat," says Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, founder of DrAxe.com, author of Eat Dirt and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition.
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 (his latest is The Power of When). "More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain."
Does acupuncture work for weight loss? Maybe. Acupuncture has also been shown to stimulate the release of "feel good" endorphins—the kind involved in "runner's high"—and this counteracts excessive eating brought about by increased stress, frustration or anxiety, Axe says. Most people see the most improvements when visiting a reputable, certified and licensed acupuncturist about once weekly or bi-weekly for at least one or more months, usually about three to six months, he says. Search the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine's directory at nccaom.org to find licensed acupuncturists