Acupuncture for weight loss - is it for you?

Acupuncture for weight lossPic: Corbis

A branch of 4,000-year-old Chinese traditional medicine, acupuncture has long been used for a wide range of ailments. And the latest research suggests it could even help with weight loss. If you're finding that hard to take in, here are the facts about this ancient alternative therapy, and how it could help you to shed those excess pounds.

What is it?
According to Chinese traditional medicine, the body's 'life force', known as Chi or Qi, flows through certain channels called meridians. Practitioners believe that illness, pain and other ailments can be caused when the Chi is blocked from flowing freely.

Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into the skin at various points along the meridians, restoring the body's Chi flow. Advocates also believe that the practice stimulates nerves and muscle tissue, bringing added benefits.

What about the research?
The two-month study carried out by researchers at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea, saw participants' body mass index (BMI) drop by up to six per cent. Reported in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, the volunteers also lost body fat and slimmed down their waistline.

Of the 91 overweight adults who took part in the study, all were put on the same diet. A third also received the five point treatment, which involves inserting needles into five points around the outer ear, 30 participants were given the 'hunger point' treatment, which targets just one spot, and the remainder were given a 'sham' treatment.

As the study progressed, almost a third of the volunteers dropped out before the two months were up. But 15 of those were from the sham treatment group, which researchers suggested indicates that they struggled to cope with the restrictive diet.

Of those that continued, those receiving the five point treatment lost six per cent of their BMI, while the 'hunger point' group enjoyed similar success, dropping 5.7 per cent of their BMI.

What's involved?
Researchers used auricular acupuncture therapy for the weight loss study, which is based on the idea that the outer ear represents all parts of the body, enabling practitioners to target specific areas depending on the patient's requirement.

The five-point treatment will see needles inserted 2mm deep at five points around the outer ear, while the 'hunger point' method involves targeting just the one point, as the name suggests.

Will it work?
As one might expect, the idea of losing weight by way of acupuncture has been sniffed at by some experts, but previous research has gone some way to showing that it can raise the body's metabolic rate and suppress appetite.

If you think it could help you, or you are keen to try it, for whatever reason, it is worth remembering that serious side effects or complications are rare, though those with blood disorders, who are taking anticoagulant medication are not advised to try acupuncture, and pregnant women should tell their practitioner about their condition before they start.

Lastly, it is always best to look for a practitioner that is registered with a recognised UK organisation, such as the British Register of Complementary Practitioners, the British Acupuncture Council or the British Medical Acupuncture Society.

What do you think? Do you believe acupuncture could help you lose weight? Leave your comments below...