Ear acupuncture ‘accelerates weight loss’

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Ear acupuncture can help people lose weight, with better results if practitioners stimulate five points instead of just one, say Korean researchers in a study published in the journal BMJ Acupuncture in medicine.

Auricular acupuncture was first used in France in 1956 by Dr. Paul Nogier. He noticed that patients’ back pain was cured when they received a burn on their ear. Intrigued, he began mapping the ear, identifying points that correspond to various organs or body systems.

Dr. Nogier imagined the ear as a curled up fetus with its head pointing down and began treating his patients by applying pressure to the point associated with each organ.

For the study, researchers compared the effectiveness of acupuncture treatments in helping obese patients lose weight, comparing the standard Korean five-point treatment with acupuncture using a single stimulation point. They also included a control group that received a “sham” treatment.

In a randomized controlled clinical trial, 91 Koreans were recruited – 16 men and 75 women – all of whom had a body mass index (BMI) of 23 or greater. None of the participants had received other control treatments for the weight in the last 6 months.

The participants were randomly divided into three groups, one group to receive the five-point acupuncture treatment, another the one-point acupuncture treatment, and the third group the “sham” control treatment.

For the trial, the first group had small indwelling needles positioned at the five ear acupuncture sites – Shen-men, stomach, spleen, hunger, endocrine system. These were covered with surgical tape and would remain in place for a week.

The following week, new needles would be inserted into the corresponding points in the other ear, with the process repeated over the 8-week trial.

The second group of participants went through the same treatment process but only had one needle inserted – to the point of starvation.

The remaining group thought they were receiving the five-point treatment, but the needles were removed immediately after insertion, although the surgical tape remained. The same doctor performed the procedure on all three groups.

All three groups were then instructed to follow a restricted diet and not do any additional exercise during the trial.

BMI, waist circumference, body fat mass, body fat percentage and blood pressure were all measured at the start and end of the trial, and at the midpoint.

During the trial, 24 people dropped out – including 15 in the control group, possibly suggesting they had trouble regulating their hunger and coping with the restricted diet.

But among the participants who completed the trial, there were significant differences in results. At the midpoint, there were already notable differences in BMI with the five-point treatment group showing a 6.1% reduction, the one-point group a 5.7% reduction while the sham group showed no reduction at all. Both active treatment groups also showed weight loss.

These results were supported by the final results, which also showed that the five-point treatment group had reduced body fat measurements. The researchers noted that there were no significant differences in blood pressure between the three groups.

The researchers conclude:

The five-needle acupuncture treatment generally used in Korean clinics and the one-needle hunger point treatment seem to be effective in reducing body weight in the short term.

They suggest that the five-needle treatment may be more effective in reducing waist circumference and abdominal fat.

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