Ear acupuncture can help with weight loss, says a small study published online in Acupuncture in medicine.
Using continuous five-point stimulation may be more effective in reducing abdominal fat (the belly bulge) than single-point stimulation, the results suggest.
Auricular acupuncture therapy is based on the understanding that the outer ear represents all parts of the body. It was first used in France in 1956 by Dr. Paul Nogier who noticed that a patient’s back pain was cured after a burn on his ear.
Since then, the approach has been used to treat drug addiction and help people quit smoking and lose weight.
Korean researchers compared acupuncture of five points on the outer ear — shen-men (divine gate); spleen, stomach, hunger and endocrine system — and one point (hunger) — with a sham treatment of 91 overweight adults (BMI of 23 or greater).
Participants were instructed to follow a restrictive (but no weight loss) diet and not do any additional exercise during the eight-week period of their treatment.
Thirty-one people were randomly assigned to the five-point treatment, which involved inserting acupuncture needles 2mm deep into the outer ear. These were held in place with surgical tape for a week, after which the same treatment was applied to the other ear, with the process repeated for eight weeks.
Another 30 people were assigned to the same treatment process, but at a single starvation point. And another 30 received a sham treatment – with the same process and timelines, but with the needles removed immediately after insertion.
All participants were weighed and measured at the start and end of treatment, and four weeks later, to include BMI, waist circumference, body fat mass, body fat percentage and blood pressure to see what impact acupuncture might have.
Twenty-four people dropped out before the end of the eight weeks, including 15 in the sham treatment group, suggesting they may have had more difficulty regulating their desire to eat and coping with the restrictive diet, say the authors.
But among those who continued for the full period, significant differences emerged after four weeks, with the active treatment groups showing a reduction of 6.1% (5-point treatment) and 5.7% (1-point treatment ), respectively, of BMI compared with the sham treatment group among which there was no reduction in BMI.
Weight also differed significantly after four weeks in the two active treatment groups compared to the sham treatment group.
Waist circumference decreased, with the greatest decline seen in the 5-point treatment group compared to the sham groups, although this difference disappears after controlling for age.
Body fat measurements also dropped after eight weeks, but only in people receiving the 5-point treatment. There were no significant differences in blood pressure between the groups.
The authors conclude that the five-point and one-point approaches can help treat overweight, but the five-point approach may be more appropriate for tackling abdominal fat.
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Material provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.