Can Acupuncture Help With Stress And Weight Gain? Get the facts

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Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that has been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of symptoms and illnesses.

Extensive research conducted around the world has shown that acupuncture can significantly improve symptoms of stress.

From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture relieves stress by promoting the movement of Qi in the body.

According to TCM, the energy that generally flows smoothly throughout the body can become blocked or dispersed due to stress or illness. This can lead to:

  • muscle tension
  • headache
  • irritability
  • commotion
  • distraction

Qi can also become deficient.

According to Ali Vander Baan, a licensed acupuncturist and founder of Yintuition Wellness in Boston, improving the flow of qi can provide relief.

“When acupuncture points are applied to stagnant areas or along energy channels where energy is not flowing properly, it can improve the flow of Qi and resolve these symptoms, resulting in relaxation and relief, feeling like we should when our body gets what it is. need, ”says Vander Baan.

This may be because acupuncture can release hormones like endorphins.

“From a physiological point of view, stimulation of acupuncture points promotes the release of happiness hormones, such as endorphins and other natural chemicals that signal the body to be safe, to relax. and turn off his stress response, ”Vander Baan said.

Acupuncture has been shown to provide several benefits for both mind and body.

Dr Shari Auth, DACM, co-founder of the New York Acupuncture Studio WTHN, explains how it works.

“We spend so much time running to get to work or getting the kids to school, anything that uses our fight-or-flight nervous system, or sympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture helps us relax and move around our parasympathetic nervous system, or rest and digest, ”says Auth.

Like Vander Baan, Auth notes that this process increases hormones associated with a positive mood.

“This big change alters our neurochemistry, increasing our ‘happiness’ hormones, such as serotonin and epinephrine, and decreasing our main ‘stress’ hormone, cortisol,” says Auth.

In addition to increasing serotonin, a 2016 review of animal and human studies suggested that acupuncture may help treat depression. A 2019 case study on a person diagnosed with depression suggested that acupuncture may even be associated with a decrease in suicidal ideation.

Auth says you’ll likely leave your next acupuncture session feeling happier and more relaxed due to the release of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid for relaxation.

Along with GABA, acupuncture can also promote the release of:

Research evaluating the impact of acupuncture on stress tends to focus on specific objective parameters of stress. These include:

The studies also focus on the subjective experience of the patient, according to Vander Baan.

“Acupuncture has been shown in studies to decrease the activation of the stress response and various stress indicators in the body and improve the patient’s experience with stress and anxiety,” she says. .

Gabriel Sher is the principal acupuncturist at ORA in New York.

“Acupuncture relaxes the system and alleviates the impact of the stress created by our daily lives,” says Sher. “Acupuncture is an essential tool for physical and mental well-being, and at ORA, we create a safe and peaceful environment where you can relax and rejuvenate.”

There is a lot of research on the effectiveness of acupuncture on stress.

An older 2002 study of patients with advanced heart failure found that acupuncture helped reduce stress.

The study showed that acupuncture can help inhibit the activation of the sympathetic nervous system in heart failure patients under stress. In other words, acupuncture can help prevent activation of the stress response.

A randomized controlled clinical trial published in 2017 tested the effects of traditional acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture used as a control.

The participants were people who studied or worked on a large urban university campus. Those in the traditional acupuncture and sham acupuncture group showed a substantial initial decrease in perceived stress scores during the first few weeks.

At 12 weeks after treatment, the traditional acupuncture group showed a significantly greater treatment effect than the sham acupuncture group. The study also showed that the effects can persist for at least 3 months after stopping treatment.

In a 2018 study of 75 women with fibromyalgia, actual acupuncture showed improvement for longer periods of time than sham acupuncture.

When it comes to treating stress with acupuncture, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

“Although there are points that constantly improve stress, acupuncture treatments are always tailored to the patient, his constitution and his particular symptoms,” says Vander Baan. “Because stress has systemic effects on the body, we want to treat the whole person and figure out where the imbalances are for that particular person. “

That being said, Vander Baan often uses specific acupuncture points for stress in his patients. These include:

  • PC6 (Pericardium 6) inside the wrist
  • HT7 (Heart 7) inside the wrist
  • yin tang between the eyebrows
  • ear points, which are known to regulate the nervous system

In his practice, Sher uses DU-20 at the top of his head, to treat stress in people he does acupuncture on.

“DU-20 clears the mind to help you feel focused and present, and it also helps relieve depression and sadness,” he says.

Like Vander Baan, Sher also uses the yin tang point to deal with stress.

“Yin tang calms the mind and reduces emotional turmoil and anxiety – it also promotes deep relaxation and treats insomnia,” Sher says.

Ren-17, located in the middle of the chest, is another point Sher uses to target stress in his acupuncture practice.

” It is especially [helpful] for those who tend to feel the effects of stress or anxiety in their chest, such as shortness of breath, tightness or palpitations, ”says Sher. “Ren-17 relaxes and opens the chest and releases the diaphragm.”

Depending on your personal goals and how long you’ve been treating a particular condition, you can expect to feel a little better with each treatment.

“A general guideline: If you are new to acupuncture, we recommend that you come once a week for the first month so that your body’s natural healing defenses can fully kick in and you feel the effects start to build up” , explains Auth. “At this point, your acupuncturist can re-evaluate your treatment plan. “

According to a 2018 review, studies show that acupuncture may be effective in treating obese people, possibly due to neuroendocrine regulation.

“When the body is under stress, it releases stress hormones that cause weight gain, an evolutionary response to survival,” says Vander Baan. “Traditionally, the stress response was a signal to the body to prepare for fight or flight and stimulated the activation of survival mode.”

Today, an overactive stress response causes the body to chronically store excess weight. By downregulating the sympathetic nervous system, acupuncture can help prevent and reverse the effects of the stress response on fat storage.

Acupuncture can also aid digestion and metabolism.

“In Chinese medicine, the hepatic system is responsible for dealing with stress and, when overwhelmed, it tends to override the spleen system,” says Vander Baan. “The treatment is to relieve the stress that plagues the liver while supporting the digestive system which has been strained by the liver.”

To target the weight gain associated with stress, Sher uses a combination of points that focus on stress as well as points that speed up digestion. These include:

  • the “four-door” points
  • Ren-12
  • Stomach-25
  • Ren-6

These points “are used to treat digestive disorders by strengthening the digestive system and by regulating the function of the spleen, stomach and intestines,” explains Sher.

Sher recommends treatments twice a week to balance the body and make sure the digestive system is functioning at an optimal level.

“To preventively achieve your best health with acupuncture, we stress the importance of creating a healing habit and routine – and we recommend at least one acupressure session per month to ideally one acupuncture session per week. , with reality often falling somewhere in between, ”Auth says.

As far as research is concerned, there is a consensus that acupuncture can reduce symptoms associated with stress.

It does this in part by turning off the sympathetic nervous system and activating the calming parasympathetic nervous system.

If you suspect that your weight gain was caused by stress, acupuncture may be of benefit to you. The frequency of your acupuncture sessions will depend on your needs and goals.

Talk to your health care provider to create a plan that works for you.


Daley Quinn is a beauty and wellness journalist and content strategist living in Boston. She is a former beauty editor for a national magazine and her work has been featured on sites such as Allure, Well + Good, Byrdie, Fashionista, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, HelloGiggles, Shape, Elite Daily, and more Again. You can see more of her work on her website.

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