3 Ways Acupuncture Can Help With Weight Loss
The most important thing to note about acupuncture and weight loss is that it is a complement, not a solution, to sustained weight loss goals. Acupuncture can assist your body in functioning at its optimum, whether that be regulating stress hormones that can contribute to weight gain, thyroid and endocrine hormone balance that regulate metabolism and hunger, digestive issues, and cravings. Weight loss is a lifestyle change of diet and exercise, and often other supplemental aspects like stress management and sleep regulation. Although acupuncture is not a magic bullet, studies have shown that people who include acupuncture in their weight loss plan actually lose more weight than people who do not. Read on to find out how acupuncture can help you reach your weight loss goals.
1. Decreases Stress.
Studies show that increased levels of cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone” can lead to increases of visceral fat, or fat surrounding the organs. Acupuncture is one of the best ways to decrease stress because it calms the nervous system and reduces cortisol levels. It brings you from stress (sympathetic) mode into relaxation (parasympathetic) mode pretty quickly. Studies have shown that acupuncture works distally (or away) from the site of insertion, having a direct effect on the central nervous system (or brain). So needles placed in different areas like your hands and feet can directly affect your nervous system. Acupuncture causes a release of natural pain killers, along with serotonin and dopamine, which are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters. Less stress equals better functioning of all the organ systems.
Everyone talks about cortisol, but what exactly is it and what does it do? Dr. Maglione-Garves, Dr. Kravtiz, and Dr. Schneider provide an in-depth discussion of the cortisol / weight connection. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced on the adrenal glands on the top of each kidney. It regulates energy by being released during different stressors like fasting, food intake, and exercise. It selects carbohydrates, fat, or protein to be used to meet the body’s needs at that time. It taps into the body’s fat stores to deliver energy to muscles to move, and can provide the body with protein for energy production. It can also move fat from storage into fat cell deposits deep in the abdomen, and can help turn baby fat cells into mature fat cells. Lastly, cortisol can act as an anti-inflammatory and suppress the immune system during times of physical and psychological stress. The enzyme that converts inactive cortisone to active cortisol is in adipose (fat) tissue. In research, human visceral (organ) fat cells have more of these enzymes compared to subcutaneous (right under the skin) fat cells. Deep abdominal fat has greater blood flow and 4 times more cortisol receptors compared to subcutaneous fat. The goal is definitely to have less visceral fat and therefore less cortisol receptors. Animal and human studies have shown cortisol injections are associated with increased appetite, cravings for sugar, and weight gain. It also influences appetite by regulating chemicals that are released during stress such as CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone), neuropeptide Y (NPY) , and leptin. High levels of cortisol for a long period of time can actually change the structure of the tissues. It can lead to excess fat circulating and relocated deep in the abdomen which can increase obesity and other health conditions.
A study conducted at Yale found even non-overweight women with more stress had higher levels of cortisol and more abdominal fat.
Harvard Health explains that abdominal fat cells are biologically active, meaning it produces hormones and other substances that can really affect our overall health. Visceral fat releases immune system chemicals called cytokines such as interleukin 6 that can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. These chemicals can completely change the cell’s sensitivity to and response to insulin, blood pressure, and blood clotting.
The stress-cortisol-weight connection is pretty well-researched and should be looked at carefully when trying to lose weight. Acupuncture is a great tool to use for reducing cortisol levels and therefore reducing overall fat accumulation.
2) Decreases Cravings.
Many people face challenges when trying to control their cravings during their weight loss programs. Cravings can be caused by triggers from stress, emotions, environments, hormones, among many things. Acupuncture decreases cravings by using specific acupuncture points in the ear to reduce appetite, calm the nervous system, and balance the body. The ear is a microcosm of the whole body, meaning all the structures and organs of the body are situated on the ear. It also has specific points for stress and balance.
The points I use for weight loss vary depending on the individual but the most commonly used are Sympathetic (not pictured), Shen Men, Stomach, Constipation (if applicable), Brain, Endocrine, and Hunger. Sympathetic brings your body from stress mode into relaxation mode and reduces cortisol. Shen Men means “spirit gate” and is used for calming the mind and body. Stomach is responsible for digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. Brain is used for the nervous system connection, Endocrine is for regulating hormones, and Hunger is for appetite control.
One study published in Medical Acupuncture, mentioned in Pacific College News, found that ear acupuncture combined with a 2,000 calorie a day diet and 15-minute walk helped reduce weight. Half of those who received weekly 15-minute sessions of ear acupuncture lost an average of 10 pounds and reported a decrease in appetite, while those without ear acupuncture averaged only a three-pound loss.
3) Improves Digestion.
I often hear patients tell me that they feel their digestion is “sluggish and heavy.” Bloating, constipation, and reflux are also common accompanying symptoms. That is the opposite of how you want to feel when trying to lose weight. In Chinese Medicine the Spleen organ system is an important player for breaking down food and making it available to assimilate. If the Spleen organ system is weak, bloating, fatigue, loose stools, phlegm, and heaviness will present. Acupuncture can support the Spleen by either strengthening weaknesses or get rid of phlegm and “dampness” so excess food can be eliminated. Proper digestion of food will lead to better ability to break down, process, and eliminate food.
Dr. Oz promotes acupuncture for weight loss! He mentions that acupuncture can strengthens the function of the liver, the organ that produces a variety of chemicals critical for digestion, processing nutrients, and breaking down of fats. Acupuncture may also increase tone in the smooth muscle of the stomach to help people know that they are full. Also, acupuncture’s influence on obesity hormones is pretty profound. Research measured acupuncture for weight loss and found treatments to increase ghrelin (a hormone that controls meal initiation) and decrease leptin (the hormone that regulates fat storage and metabolism). DOUBLE WIN.
Acupuncture is a great adjunct and support to your weight loss goals. Diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and other lifestyle modifications are also big components to the path of healthy living. Stay positive, take one day at a time, and always be kind to yourself 🙂
Best in Health,