Hong Kong Baptist University and Pok Oi Hospital carried out a clinical trial from September 2015 to October 2016 to look into the efficacy and safety of acupuncture on body weight control.

While findings seemed to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture in helping the obese to lose weight, the study also tried to investigate the possible mechanisms of action behind its effect on body weight and obesity-related peptides.

Acupuncture proved to be effective in helping the obese to lose weight

Researchers from the Baptist University and Pok Oi Hospital set out to compare the effects of body acupuncture and auricular acupressure compared against a placebo for body weight control. In the year-long study, the team looked at 72 overweight patients who received regular acupuncture over eight weeks.

36 of the patients received acupuncture treatment twice a week on several points on their abdomen, legs and ears. To ensure consistency in the treatment modalities, the acupuncture treatment was administered by registered Chinese medicine practitioners.

Meanwhile, the other 36 patients in the placebo group were given a form of sham-acupuncture where the needles used did not penetrate their skin. Both groups were asked to maintain regular meals, avoid snacks and not to perform any exercise outside of their daily work.

After eight weeks of follow up, the team found that the acupuncture group lost 2.47 kg on average, comparing to the placebo group which lost an average of 0.54 kg. With an average weight loss difference of roughly 2 kg, the acupuncture group displayed a significant decrease in body weight correlated to the treatment received.

Establishing a roadmap for the use of acupuncture as an alternative treatment for obesity

“This study provides evidence for using acupuncture in weight control in Hong Kong,” Linda Zhong, research coordinator and professor at the university, said. “It proves the treatment is effective and safe,” she added.

Dr Linda Zhong explains that the trial provides preliminary evidence of the efficacy and safety of acupuncture on weight control in Hong Kong. Photo credit: HKBU
Dr Linda Zhong explains that the trial provides preliminary evidence of the efficacy and safety of acupuncture on weight control in Hong Kong. Photo credit: HKBU

Zhong went on to explain the possible reasons of the difference in weight loss. She explained the acupuncture treatment might have increased the levels of endorphin and serotonin in the blood. This led to suppression in appetite, and an acceleration in the process of fat loss.

Additionally, the acupoints chosen were claimed to be able to redirect the flow of Qi, or energy. For instance, pressing the “hunger point” would supposedly help suppress one’s desire for food; while other chosen points are correlated in improving digestion.

Unfortunately, the selection of Qi points is difficult to be explained using hard science – especially considering the lack of scientific explanation behind the mechanism of the treatment nowadays. The small number of study participants is considered another drawback. Some may cast doubts if the study can be generalised to the public.

Despite all of that, the team’s findings serve to add more scientific literature in regards to acupuncture treatment. The early proven benefits will aid other centers to carry out similar practices and collect their own data on the effectiveness on the treatment. Collectively, the data can then be accumulated for a significantly larger sample size to ascertain with better reliability the effectiveness of acupuncture in weight control.

“Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been developing based on experience,” Eric Tat-chi Ziea, chief of the Chinese Medicine Department at the Hospital Authority said. “It is not as accustomed to objective scientific research as western medicine. We hope more Chinese medical professionals will take part in research.”

Acupuncture was superior to lifestyle advice, placebo and conventional medication in regards to weight control

Besides Hong Kong, other countries too have been studying the effects of acupuncture on controlling weight. In a review carried out by team of researchers from Greece and the United Kingdom, findings revealed acupuncture was superior to lifestyle advice, placebo and conventional medication in regards to weight control.

Compared to the other interventions, acupuncture was found to have better reduction in body weight, body mass index, and waist and hip circumference. In addition, acupuncture was also associated with positive psychological improvements including a reduction in anxiety, phobia, anger, obsession, depression and paranoid symptoms.

The team expanded its investigation to study the possible mechanism of actions of various types of acupuncture, including body, auricular, manual and electro-acupuncture. They discovered acupuncture was able to control various biochemical levels such as insulin resistance, glucose and lipid-metabolism, leptin and ghrelin peptide regulation and inflammatory markers.

Insulin resistance together with glucose and lipid-metabolism are often deranged in diabetes in obesity but, were found to be decreased with acupuncture treatment. Meanwhile, leptin levels increased and ghrelin levels decreased in acupuncture patients, which led to a decrease in hunger and appetite. Acupuncture was also found to normalise the inflammatory markers within the body which helped to promote weight loss. MIMS

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