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The answer isn’t a resounding yes, but it isn’t a no either, according to the experts. “Obviously, we have a huge obesity epidemic and we’re trying to find any way to help people lose weight,” says Reshmi Srinath, M.D. and assistant professor of medicine, endocrinology, diabetes and bone disease at Mt. Sinai. Unfortunately, she notes that there aren’t enough controlled, randomized studies proving a direct link between weight loss and acupuncture. “I do, however, think there are benefits,” she says. “It certainly can’t hurt.”
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Srinath notes that there’s data showing a direct correlation between pain alleviation and lowered stress levels, and, as we’ve pointed out in the past, stress is linked to weight gain.
One of the few, relatively recent studies done on this subject, published in The Scientific World Journal, found that 196 obese subjects who received acupuncture, the majority did lose weight over the six-week trial period but only when treatment was coupled with diet restriction.
Those who practice acupuncture echo Srinath and the study’s sentiments. “Acupuncture isn’t magic,” says Daniel Hsu, licensed acupuncturist and founder of New York AcuHealth Acupuncture practice. “It doesn’t make fat melt off of your body, but studies show it can affect the part of the brain that feels hunger.”
In addition to reducing hunger, Hsu says that acupuncture activates your “feel-good” neurotransmitters, which can reduce stress, and thus, help you lose weight. The exact process differs from patient to patient, but a lot of points on the ears are related to curbing hunger, he says.
And if you’re wondering if one session is enough to see results, think of it this way: You wouldn’t see results from going to the gym one time. Generally, Hsu recommends that patients seeking weight loss of around 10 to 15 pounds should receive treatment for six to eight weeks, several times a week in the beginning, and taper off visits as time passes. In order to see success, he emphasizes that you have to be in the correct mindset. “If someone is hell-bent on eating, acupuncture won’t stop you,” he says. “Similarly, if you have knee surgery, and immediately play tennis after, your knee is going to break again.”
In general, if someone feels that acupuncture improves their quality of life, then that might lead them to make better choices regarding diet and exercise, which ultimately, could help them lose weight. However, we’ve yet to see any substantial data that proves receiving acupuncture treatment alone correlates to weight loss. According to the experts, it’s best to seek acupuncture in order to alleviate other ailments that might be standing in your way.
Can Acupuncture Really Help You Lose Weight? We Asked The Experts