You can find acupuncture on offer from the NHS in some areas for a variety of conditions where it is often used in tandem with conventional medicine. It is even being used by the US military for pain relief. However, for most of us, acupuncture is available as a private course of treatment at your own cost and it can be used for a wide range of conditions ailments including anxiety, asthma, exezma, addictions, pain relief and obesity.
Acupuncture requires that fine needles are inserted into various parts of the body at certain points in order to effect a cure for your specific problem. It is painless, safe (as long as the needles are sterile) and non invasive and although regarded by many as creating nothing more than a placebo effect, acupuncture treatment will not do you any harm.
The Background To Acupuncture
Acupuncture was first devised in ancient China and according to legend; it all came about when Chinese doctors noticed that soldiers who had been injured by arrows in battle seemed to recover from otherwise untreatable medical conditions. This goes back to pre history and the first written record for acupuncture dates back to 200BCE so it must be one of the world’s earliest medical practices.
The Philosophy of Acupuncture
It is all about energy lines or meridians that run through the body. The Qi (chee) is an energy that flows through the body and disruptions of this flow are believed to be the cause of disease and ailments.
Traditional Chinese medicine identifies five different energy functions that deal with specific bodily functions.
- Actuation – All the physical processes of the body included blood flow
- Warming – The body especially the limbs
- The Six Excesses – symptoms of disharmony or illness such as itchiness mucus, pulse
- Containment – Bodily fluids
- Transformation – Or food drink and breath
The entire body is mapped according to these five meridians and an acupuncturist treats the relevant problem by inserting a needle in to the skin at designated acupuncture points in order to treat the problem. Practitioners believe that when Qi cannot flow freely round the body, it causes illness or disease and a physical imbalance.
Acupuncture is complicated and acupuncturists have to undergo a minimum of three years training in order to practice although practitioners are not required to have any previous medical training.
Although there are different disciplines within acupuncture, this basic idea of the energy force or Qi and the meridians is key to the philosophy. There is no modern counterpart in western medicine.
Acupuncture may sound all a bit esoteric with all its references to energy and meridians but the strange thing about this mysterious Chinese medicine is that it does appear to work for many conditions. Some scientists and acupuncturists believe that the needles stimulate muscle tissue and nerve endings and it is this that causes the beneficial effects.
Another possible reason is that the tenets of Chinese medicine are based on holistic treatment, which means looking at the body as a whole. This differs from western medicine, which tends to focus on individual symptoms and treat each one separately, even though they may be caused by the same root problem.
When you visit an acupuncturist, he or she will look at your general health, the colour of your tongue and listen to your breathing in order to make the correct diagnosis.
So What is Acupuncture Used For?
There are a range of medical conditions which acupuncture may help and which are approved by the various health authorities and it is sometimes used in NHS hospitals to treat the nausea associated with chemotherapy.
Acupuncture is particularly effective for pain relief. Typically head aches and back pain, osteoarthritis of the knee, dental pain and post op nausea and vomiting. The reason that acupuncture is used for these conditions is that it seems to work. There have been numerous clinical trials to prove this point although the scientific world cannot fully explain why it is so effective.
The American National Center For Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) are cautious about the benefits of acupuncture. They state,
Although millions of Americans use acupuncture each year, often for chronic pain, there has been considerable controversy surrounding its value as a therapy and whether it is anything more than placebo. Research exploring a number of possible mechanisms for acupuncture’s pain-relieving effects is ongoing.
Despite this rather lukewarm statement about the efficacy of acupuncture, not all US Government departments agree.
Recently acupuncture has been used as a pain relief for injured soldiers returning from Iran and Afghanistan and has proven to be successful according to many wounded personnel and army doctors.
The US Air Force runs a military acupuncture clinic and although first treated wounded soldiers on their return to the US, have now established a training programme for Army, Navy and Air force doctors. The aim is to provide frontline battlefield treatment as part of emergency care. It seems that this battlefield acupuncture that involves needles applied to five points on the outer ear significantly reduces pain within minutes.
It seems odd to think that such a conservative organisation like the American Military have embraced what to many seems a like a controversial and unproven medical treatment but apparently they do have a history with acupuncture. It was used in the Vietnam War when local surgeons used acupuncture to treat Vietnamese patients in military hospitals.
What About Acupuncture for Obesity and Weight Loss?
There are conflicting opinions about whether acupuncture is beneficial for helping promote weight loss.
Some medical establishments, including the NHS and the US National Institutes for health have pooh poohed the idea of acupuncture for obesity and the NHS has said that there is simply no evidence that it helps.
However, there does seem to be a case that acupuncture may help weight loss. In many cases in order to lose weight successfully, you have to make changes to lifestyle and acupuncture can help with this. According to its exponents acupuncture can help:
- Reduce stress levels
- Improve energy levels
- Reduce any pain making it easier to exercise
- Increase the metabolism
- Remove food cravings
- Increase circulation
- Suppress the appetite
This may not MAKE you lose weight but all these features may help you to make changes to your diet and lifestyle, which may help you.
Clinical Testing For Acupuncture Weight Loss
More specifically acupuncture has been found to work as an appetite suppressant.
According to one clinical test carried out by the University of Adelaide in Australia on 60 random overweight people, acupuncture was found to have a positive effect.
Acupuncture stimulates the auricular branch of the vagal nerve and raises serotonin levels, both of which have been shown to increase tone in the smooth muscle of the stomach, thus suppressing appetite.
The conclusion was that,
Frequent stimulation of specific auricular acupuncture points is an effective method of appetite suppression which leads to weight loss
Some clinical testing has attributed weight loss by acupuncture to its effect upon the patient’s adrenal system. One clinical test carried out by the Nanjing College of TCM reported,
Acupuncture treatment not only affected weight loss but also enhanced functioning of the two systems, suggesting that the effect of acupuncture on weight loss may be produced by enhancing the functions of both the sympathetic-adrenal system and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system.
Both these tests suggest that acupuncture may help with weight loss even though they came to different conclusions about how they actually helped.
Research into Weight Loss
Within the UK, the British Medical Acupuncture Society is a charity, which encourages the use and scientific understanding of Acupuncture. Their members are health professionals including doctors who practice acupuncture within “the scope of their professional practice”.
They state that,
Clinical research has yet to confirm whether or not acupuncture is useful in the management of weight loss. Lifestyle modification is necessary to maintain any weight loss achieved.
It seems that even among the health professionals who believe in the benefits of acupuncture, and not all do, there is a range of medical opinion about the use of acupuncture for weight loss.
The NHS says,
There is little or no scientific evidence that acupuncture works for many of the conditions for which it is often used. More scientific research is needed to establish whether acupuncture is effective against these and other conditions.
However, they do state,
There is some scientific evidence that acupuncture is effective for a small number of health conditions.
The big problem is that the medical establishment need to understand the way that acupuncture actually works. The idea of Qi and meridians is so out of the usual scientific sphere that it is impossible to understand how and why it works. The fact that it does appear to work for some conditions is inexplicable.
So Is Acupuncture Worth a Try for Weight Loss?
It might help you lose weight but a lot depends on how you approach the treatment.
Some people have tried it and have found that it has helped them lose weight.
One woman used it to try to lose post pregnancy weight. She underwent acupuncture sessions for a course of 12 weeks and in addition had a small magnet taped to her ear that she had to press each time she felt hungry.
I feel that overall, it worked. It wasn’t quick by any means. I lost about 1-2 lbs a week. The magnet worked as well. It actually took my appetite away the majority of the time, but I learned it doesn’t help when you eat out of boredom.
Many others have reported similar experiences.
How to Find An Acupuncturist
If you are considering trying acupuncture yourself for weight loss, it is important to visit a fully qualified and trained acupuncturist.
In the UK, the British Acupuncturist Council is the largest professional self-regulatory body for traditional acupuncture
In the USA, the governing body for Acupuncturists are The National Certification commission For Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
So Will Acupuncture Help Weight Loss?
When it comes down to it, there is no convincing argument either way for weight loss.
Acupuncture undoubtedly works for some medical conditions and it is surprising to see just how many respected medical authorities are in favour of this alternative medicine.
The big problem is that there is a lack of real evidence because it is hard to evaluate exactly how and why it works. Many people in the medical profession dismiss acupuncture as simply a placebo, although this does not explain fully how and why it obviously does help with pain relief.
At the time of writing, chronic lower back pain is the only medical condition that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends treatable by acupuncture. This is despite the obvious benefits experienced by other groups such as the American combat soldiers looking for pain relief and the fact the acupuncture is used in many NHS hospitals for a range of conditions.
If you visit an acupuncturist in order to lose weight, it may help you, but nothing is really proven. It is likely to be expensive though and even if you do manage to lose weight, the results may not be as good as the price tag suggests.