Can acupuncture help with weight loss?

Image: Advantage Lendl via Flickr


People often ask me if acupuncture can help them lose weight. The fact of the matter is that an acupuncturist can help support your weight loss plan by offering advice based on Chinese food therapy. They can also help improve your general sense of wellbeing and to maintain good health which helps relieve the effects of stress and emotions.


However there is no magical acupuncture point which helps the weight magically drop away. You will still have to exercise and do all the usual hard work, but it can be easier and you will be more successful with the help of traditional Chinese medicine.


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Belly Fat is More Important than BMI in Determining Health

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Body mass index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person’s height and weight used to determine health. I have long been arguing against using BMI as a measure of health purely because it is inaccurate. The ratio of height to weight does not take into account whether the weight is due to fat or muscle. Much more important is the distribution of fat in the body which can be measured by the Body Fat Pinch Test, or even the Waist-Height Ratio.


Despite the medical establishment acknowledging that BMI has shortcomings, it is still revered. In the NHS, possibly due to staff following policies laid out to them, a BMI number in the acceptable range can mean a tall overweight patient will not be dealt a talk about their weight. If only they could just look up from the tables and charts sometimes and just look at the person in front of them.

 

More and more studies are showing the significant dangers of abdominal fat or belly fat or muffin tops or beer bellies. A meta-analysis of five studies showed that belly fat is associated with a 70% increase in risk of death (for coronary artery disease). Belly fat is worse than thigh fat for instance, because it tends to be a sign of visceral fat, the fat that gathers around the organs in the abdomen. This fat seems to promote insulin resistance and unhealthy cholesterol numbers.


This spotlight on abdominal fat could also explain the obesity paradox, whereby overweight and obese patients with cardiovascular disease and/or heart failure appear to fare better than leaner patients.

 

What baffles me is why the medical world is so unwilling to give up BMI despite the plain evidence that:

“BMI, although widely used, ‘is not a good measure of body fatness and gives no insight into the distribution of fat,’ according to Thais Coutinho, MD, also of the Mayo Clinic, who is the study’s lead author.”

 

A healthy weight is obviously of the utmost importance, and advice should be given on lifestyle changes to help with that, but it’s equally as important to educate people that your body shape is just as significant as your weight.

 

Photo credit: Adrian Clark via flickr

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Fat Around the Middle: Chinese people tend to carry extra weight around midsection, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

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If you asked most people, they would comment on how typically skinny Chinese (and other Asian) people are. When discussing weight and shape of the Chinese, it seems to be a relative thing: “Yes, So-and-so is chubbier but that’s because most Chinese are so thin!” And everyone else would invariably agree.


The increase in a sedantary lifestyle and fast food diets is slowly changing this image: obesity in China is on the rise. However for the moment, this image of skinnier Asian people (and therefore healthier Asian people) persists and therein lies the danger. Carrying extra weight around your abdominal area increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. So while Chinese people may weigh less overall than their western counterparts, research has shown that they tend to gain weight around the midsection, thus increasing their chances of illness. Obviously being overweight is the major factor, but I think more awareness should be raised among the population traditionally seen as healthy to ensure that 60kg person with a healthy BMI and pot belly knows the possible risks.

 

There are various reasons besides genetics that lead to weight gain around the torso. The important thing is for both professionals and patients to understand the risks of both weight and body shape. So next time, count your bingo wings as a blessing rather than a curse. 

 

Photo credit: Michelle Meiklejohn

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