Placing five acupuncture needles in the outer ear may help people lose that
spare tire, researchers report.
Ear acupuncture therapy is based on the theory that the outer ear represents
all parts of the body. One type uses one needle inserted into the area that is
linked to hunger and appetite, while the other involves inserting five needles
at different key points in the ear.
"If the trend we found is supported by other studies, the hunger
acupuncture point is a good choice in terms of convenience. However, for
patients suffering from central obesity, continuous stimulation of five
acupuncture points should be used," said lead researcher Sabina Lim, from
the department of meridian and acupuncture in the Graduate College of Basic
Korean Medical Science at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea.
According to Lim, the effectiveness of acupuncture on obese patients is
closely related to metabolic function. "Increased metabolic function
promotes the consumption of body fat, overall, resulting in weight loss,"
Understanding the mechanism
The report was published online in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.
Dr David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Centre,
said, "We must avoid rushing to judge that a treatment is ineffective just
because we don't understand the mechanism. Rather, if a treatment is genuinely
effective, it invites us to figure out the mechanism."
But this study does not prove the effectiveness of acupuncture, he said.
"Placebo effects are strong, particularly when they involve needles. The
evidence here falls short of proof," Katz said.
According to the US National Centre for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine, results from the few studies on acupuncture and weight loss have been
In one study, researchers examined the effect of ear acupuncture with sham
acupuncture on obese women. "Researchers found no statistical difference
in body weight, body-mass index and waist circumference between the acupuncture
group and placebo," said Katy Danielson, a spokeswoman for the centre.
For this latest study, Lim and her colleagues compared acupuncture of five
points on the outer ear with one-point acupuncture. They randomly assigned 91
overweight people to five-point acupuncture, one-point acupuncture (hunger) or
sham (placebo) treatment.
During the eight weeks of the study, participants were told to follow a
restrictive diet, but not a weight-loss diet. They were not supposed to
increase their exercise.
Those who received five-point acupuncture had needles placed 2 millimetres
deep in one outer ear taped in place and kept there for a week. Then the same
treatment was applied to the other ear. The process was repeated over eight
Other patients received similar treatment with one needle or with sham
acupuncture where the needles were removed immediately after insertion.
Over the course of the study, 24 patients dropped out, 15 of whom were
receiving sham treatment, the researchers noted.
Among those who completed the study, there were significant differences in
weight loss among the groups. At four weeks, those receiving five-point
treatment had an average reduction in weight of 6.1%, compared with a 5.7%
reduction among those treated with one needle and no weight loss among those
receiving sham therapy, the researchers found.
The largest drop was seen in waist size with the five-point treatment,
compared with sham therapy; however, this difference disappeared after taking
age into account, the investigators noted.
Percentage of body fat also dropped, but only in those receiving the
five-point treatment, the study authors added.
"Both five- and one-point approaches showed significant effects on
treating the obese patients and notable reduction in the values closely related
to obesity, such as waist circumference measurements and weight, compared to
the sham group," Lim said.
"But yet, the five-point approach caused the largest decrease in waist
circumference, indicating that the method should be considered as a primary
treatment to reduce central obesity, rather than the hunger acupuncture point
or temporary stimulation of the five acupuncture points," she pointed out.
According to the Acupuncturecost.org, treatments range in cost from about R750
to R1 300 and are covered by some, but not all insurance companies.
Read up more on acupuncture in our 101