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Ear acupuncture may improve results

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A person's ear taped at multiple acupuncture pressure points with surgical tapeShare on Pinterest
Acupuncture stimulation of the ear has been linked to many health benefits. Tatiane Silva/Getty Images
  • Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine with several potential health benefits, including pain relief.
  • Researchers are still working to understand the full benefits of different acupuncture techniques.
  • A​ study found that acupuncture pressure using beads on the ear may improve weight loss efforts.

As people strive for healthy lifestyles, they can use a number of strategies that combine aspects of nutrition and exercise with components of complementary and alternative medicine. One area of interest is collecting more research on how acupuncture techniques may benefit people trying to lose weight.

Researchers are presenting new findings in this area at the 30th European Congress on Obesity (ECO).

They found that using gold beads for acupuncture stimulation on crucial points of the ear may help improve weight loss results for men.

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine. It often involves a trained practitioner inserting fine needles into the skin. Some people pursue acupuncture as a method of pain relief.

Some evidence from smaller clinical studies but no multiple site controlled studies has also suggested that acupuncture can assist with seasonal allergies, symptoms of asthma, or improvement of depression. Acupuncture specialists can use their techniques on various areas of the body. Auricular acupuncture specifically involves the stimulation of key areas of the ear.

While the practice has been around for a long time, researchers are still seeking to understand the full benefits of acupuncture and the underlying physical mechanisms involved. One area of interest is how acupuncture techniques may help people lose weight.

Jamie Bacharach Dipl, licensed medical acupuncturist, and the head of practice at Acupuncture Jerusalem, explained to Medical News Today:

“Acupuncture can trigger the release of endorphins, activation of the nervous system, modulation of neurotransmitters, and regulation of immune responses, all of which can promote healing and health.”

“Regarding weight loss, acupuncture has been suggested as a complementary therapy to aid in weight management. The ear, in particular, is believed to have acupuncture points that can influence appetite, metabolism, digestion, and stress levels. The technique known as auricular acupuncture focuses specifically on stimulating these ear points.”
— Jamie Bacharach Dipl

Researchers wanted to build on previous data to examine the weight loss effect of using auricular acupuncture stimulation. This acupuncture technique uses beads that pressure key areas of the ear rather than using needles.

This study was observational and looked at data from a pre-existing weight-loss program. They collected data from 81 male Japanese participants. They sought to compare the weight loss effect with women who had undergone the same weight loss program.

Participants in the weight-loss program received auricular acupuncture stimulation on six key areas of the ear using small gold beads placed under tape. They were further instructed to halve their food intake. Participants received certain nutritional supplements to ensure deficiency did not occur and had clinic visits twice a week for progress monitoring.

T​hey found that participants saw an average weight loss of 8.6 kilograms and a significantly reduced waist circumference. They also saw improvement in the ratio of muscle mass to body fat. This indicates that participants reduced overall fat and muscle mass remained about the same.

Men showed more improvement in the muscle mass-to-fat ratio than women. But men saw a greater muscle mass decrease and more decrease in basal metabolic rates than women.

However, the overall results suggest that the benefits of this weight loss intervention were about the same or better for men than the results for women. There was no control group for either men or women to evaluate how weightloss compared to people instructed to follow the same dietary advice without the acupuncture intervention.

“The main finding of the research was that stimulation of acupuncture points using beads, rather than traditional acupuncture needles, showed potential for supporting weight loss outside of exercise therapy and dietary therapy. [Thus] It is possible to assist weight loss treatments by reducing appetite through a very simple method.”
— Dr. Takahiro Fujimoto, study author, speaking to Medical News Today

Dr. Zeeshan Afzal, clinical scientist who was not involved in the research, elaborated on the findings to MNT:

“The findings provide evidence that auricular acupuncture combined with nutritional guidance may be an effective strategy for weight loss in both genders. They show that, for men, these strategies led to a considerable average weight loss of 8.6 kg and a reduction in waist circumference of 10.4 cm over a 3-month period.”

“Furthermore, the study found that men exhibited improvements equal to, or greater than, those seen in women, suggesting that auricular acupuncture is not gender-specific in its benefits,” he added.

T​his data did have certain limitations, which indicates the need for further research.

First, the study only included a small number of participants and lacked ethnic diversity as all participants were Japanese, so further research could include a larger and more diverse sample size. The study also cannot establish a causal relationship between the acupuncture method involved and weight loss.

Researchers only used a short follow-up time, so further research could include more long-term data. The study also appeared to lack a control group, so it is unclear how much of the results can be attributed to acupuncture stimulation intervention and how much was related to other weight loss interventions.

Further research is also needed to understand the underlying mechanisms involved. Researchers don’t completely understand why this method may help with weight loss.

Dr. Fujimoto noted the current speculation and the further research needed in this area:

“​As it is believed that the actual mechanism involves the improvement of leptin production through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, further data acquisition regarding this mechanism is desired.”

D​r. Afzal also offered the following words of caution about interpreting the study’s results.

“While the findings offer a promising outlook on the role of auricular acupuncture in weight loss and body composition management, more rigorous experimental studies (like randomized controlled trials) are needed to establish a causal link between the intervention and observed outcomes.”
— Dr. Zeeshan Afzal

“This will help substantiate the claim that auricular acupuncture can suppress appetite during dietary restriction and provide a more solid foundation for using this method in weight loss programs,” he added.

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