Traditional Chinese medicine views excess body weight as a symptom of underlying imbalances involving a person’s internal organs or organ systems.
Causes of imbalance might include such factors as a person’s lifestyle choices, environment and/or inherited constitution.
Treatment begins with a thorough assessment of a person’s status with regard to these factors as well as a TCM based physical exam. Once an appropriate diagnosis is made, a customized treatment plan is recommended which might include such therapies as general body acupuncture, TCM herbal prescriptions, auricular acupuncture/acupressure, and/or dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
Unlike many other approaches to weight management, TCM treats a person globally and individually rather than in a symptom specific and population based manner. Consequently, two people with the same symptomatic complaint might ultimately receive two different diagnoses and treatments.
While individual response to TCM based therapy for weight management varies, some noticeable effects, apart from actual weight loss, include:
- Appetite suppression
- Induction of satiety
- Metabolic stimulation
- Stress relief
- Reduction of cravings
- Reduced fatigue
- Reduced sweating
- Greater energy levels
Course of treatment
A course of treatment is typically comprised of 12 sessions at a frequency of 2-3 appointments per week and might involve the use of ear-seed placement, auricular acupuncture, general body acupuncture and/or herbal prescriptions for use between visits.
Ear seed placement, a form of auricular acupressure, allows the subject to experience the therapeutic stimulation of his/her acupoints continuously and has been shown to have a positive effect in the reduction of withdrawal related psychological distress and craving.1
Standard auricular acupuncture has been used in the management of the withdrawal symptoms for several decades and is currently employed as an adjunctive therapy at numerous hospitals and outpatient clinics throughout the US and Europe2 such as the Substance Abuse Treatment Unit at the Yale University School of Medicine. It has also long been known as an effective tool in regard to weight management.8,9
General body acupuncture can help promote weight-loss through its known modulatory effects on some of the neurotransmitters that govern appetite as well as on such weight related hormones as insulin, leptin, cholecyctokinin, adiponectin, and cortisol.10,11
Assessment of any dietary or lifestyle factors that might be contributing to the formation of a patient’s imbalances is also made and followed up with the appropriate educational measures and/or recommendations.
In a manner similar to conventional nutritional counseling, dietary therapy In Traditional Chinese medicine seeks to establish the appropriate intake of necessary micro and macro nutrients but assumes a more holistic approach by taking into consideration such factors as the ratio of food proportions, its seasonality, method of cultivation, taste, temperature and even colour.
As the consumption of herbs is considered to be an extension of diet, where necessary, herbs having similar effects to acupuncture might be prescribed for consumption as well. Among the more widely known such herbs in the West are Thunder God Vine, which has been shown to amplify the effects of the endogenous “satiety hormone” leptin 3 and ginseng, which has demonstrated an ability to hinder the fat storage process. 4
Since the lack of physical activity also contributes to a loss of internal balance and subsequent weight gain, some form of exercise is also frequently recommended. Traditionally, this would involve such activities as Qi Gong or the more widely known Tai Chi, however, patients are now encouraged to seek those activities that fit in with their own unique interests and preferences to help foster the adoption of a sustainable habit.
While assessing the effectiveness of interventions based on TCM principles using population based methodologies presents many challenges, research in this direction has provided numerous affirming results.
In a 2014 Korean study of the effects of ear acupuncture on weight loss, researchers concluded that several combinations of point stimulation involving the ear were “effective for treating overweight people.” 5
In a 2012 systematic review of the effects of Chinese medicine and acupuncture in the treatment of obesity, it was found that TCM methods “ were more effective than placebo or lifestyle modification in reducing body weight [and] had a similar efficacy as Western anti-obesity drugs but with fewer reported adverse effects.” 6
A similar study of 2009 investigating the effects of acupuncture alone for obesity found that acupuncture significantly reduced body weight compared to controls. The researchers concluded that “our review suggests that acupuncture is an effective treatment for obesity.”7
1. Tian X., Kishnan S. ” Efficacy of auricular acupressure as an adjuvant therapy in substance abuse treatment: a pilot study.” Altern Ther Health Med. 2006 . Web. 12/20/2015
2. Tian X., Krishnan S. ” Alternative therapies in health and medicine.” Altern Ther Health Med. 2006 . Web. 12/20/2015
3. Liu J., et al. ” Treatment of Obesity With Celastrol.” Cell. 2015. Web. 12/26/2015
4. Hwang J.T. et al. ” Antiobesity effect of ginsenoside Rg3 involves the AMPK and PPAR-gamma signal pathways.” Phytother Res. 02/2009. Web. 12/12/2015
5. Yeo S. et al. ” Randomised clinical trial of five ear acupuncture points for the treatment of overweight people.” Acupunct Med. 04/2014. Web. 12/21/2015
6. Sui Y. et al. “A systematic review on use of Chinese medicine and acupuncture for treatment of obesity.” Obes Rev. 05/2012. Web. 12/28/2015
7. Cho S H. et al. ” Acupuncture for obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Int J Obes. 02/2009. Web. 11/12/2015
8 Shiraishi, T et al. “Effects of bilateral auricular acupuncture stimulation on body weight in healthy volunteers and mildly obese patients.” Exp Biol Med. 11/2003. Web. 20/01/2016
9 Richards, D. & Marley, J. “Stimulation of auricular acupuncture points in weight loss.” Aust Fam Physician. 07/1998. Web. 20/01/2016.
10 Gucel, F. et al. “Influence of acupuncture on leptin, ghrelin, insulin and cholecyctokinin in obese women: a randomised, sham-controlled preliminary trial.” Acupunct Med. 09/2012. Web. 20/02/2016
11 Luo, H.L. & Li, R.H. “Effect of electroacupuncture on leptin and adiponectin in simple obesity patients.”Zhen Ci Yan Jui (Article in Chinese) 08/2007. Web. 20/02/2016