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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Acupuncture and Health | Reaching wellness doesn’t happen overnight

Image: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via Flickr

While I am recharging my batteries on holiday, I’m going to share two of my favourite articles. This second one is from the blog that you may have missed.

I have been embracing my culture. More precisely I have been trying to read the historical novel Three Kingdoms which is widely popular in China and neighbouring countries. Think King Arthur but older and grander.

I remember one Korean 12-year-old re-enacting excitedly a scene which involved sending covered boats down a river in the dark of night, camouflaged by mist. The enemy, thinking they were being attacked, aimed all their arrows at the boats and let fire. The boats were eventually recovered by the good guys, which were now completely covered with arrows they so desperately needed. This was one of the turning points for their fortunes and an example of strategy genius that has made many boys (and men) go into slight crises.

I had no idea what he was talking about.

So now, after almost a decade of trying, I’m finally midway through the book. I have been lucky enough to find a very good English translation (which is oh so important) and despite there being 15 characters introduced in the first chapter alone (some with other names they sometimes go by) I have to admit it’s been quite good so far.

To be honest, I dusted this book and gave it another try this time because there are just too many epic martial arts movies that are based on these events. There have been two which are particularly well choreographed with enough horsemen to scare off the “Lord of the Rings” series, but everything was just too complicated without any knowledge on the history behind it. So, bring on the original novel!

In chapter ten, Kongming, a counsel for one of the good guys (Liu Bei) was fighting off criticism for why his side hadn’t overthrown the enemy if they were as good as they said they were. Liu Bei’s men and resources at this point were vastly outnumbered by Cao Cao (one of the bad guys) and they were covering ground at a snail’s pace. Kongming retaliated:

“When a man is gravely ill, he must be fed weak gruel and medicated with mild tonics until his internal state is readjusted and balanced and his condition gradually stabilizes. Only then can meat be added to his diet and powerful drugs used to cure him. Thus is the root of the disease eradicated and the man’s health restored. If you do not wait until breath and pulse are calm and steady but precipitately use powerful drugs and rich food, the attempt to cure the patient is sure to fail.”

This brilliantly summarises the theories of Chinese medicine (and strategies of warfare so it seems) but it can also be applied to other things.

The main concept is not one of wait and bide your time, but of building a strong foundation:

  • A ballerina does not jump right into the Swan Lake, she spends years at the barre perfecting her technique.
  • The head chef doesn’t get to that level without knowing how to slice carrots thinly and quickly with dangerously sharp knives.
  • The accountant running the London Marathon for the first time will have spent months preparing for the event.
  • After recovering from a serious injury, the patient needs to undergo relentless physical rehabilitation before they can take those first steps again.

Nowadays with the constant access of information available 24/7, people’s perception of time seems to be somewhat warped. I get frustrated if I’m still waiting to be connected to a customer representative until I look and see I’ve only been on the phone for 54 seconds. I’ve spoken to people (not my patients) who don’t think that acupuncture / TCM / massage / physiotherapy / (delete as appropriate) worked for their chronic condition when they’ve only had two sessions.

Sometimes we should just take a step back and realize that a house built carefully and with consideration is the strongest house on the street.

How else can you apply this thought to everyday situations? Let me know, and if you enjoyed reading this, feel free to forward it on.

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Five misconceptions about acupuncture

Image: Stephen Heron/Steve-h via Flickr

While I am recharging my batteries on holiday, I’m going to share two of my favourite articles. First up is one I wrote for AcuTake, a great source of information on how acupuncture can help you lead a healthier, simpler, more meaningful life.

As an acupuncturist, I do a lot of myth debunking. It’s understandable. After all, acupuncture speaks an entirely different language from the one through which most Westerners learned to see the world. However, with acupuncture continuing to grow in popularity and gain acceptance by mainstream medicine, it’s important to clarify a few myths and misconceptions that have a strong hold in our collective psyche.

Here are the five most common myths and misconceptions I hear about acupuncture.

“Acupuncture is only for pain.”

Ask most people what acupuncture helps with and the overwhelming majority will say pain. It is true that acupuncture can work wonders for back pain, headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, leg pain, postoperative pain, and pretty much any other kind of pain you can think of. However, pain is just one of many ailments for which acupuncture can provide relief.

Acupuncture alleviates digestive problems, menstrual irregularities, allergies, insomnia, stress and anxiety, asthma, and several other conditions. While many acupuncturists are generalists who treat a wide range of ailments, some specialize. So do a little homework before booking an appointment to find out whether an acupuncturist has experience treating whatever you need help with. The AcuTake Acupuncturist Directory, searchable by condition, is a great place to start.

“Acupuncture doesn’t work because I’ve had it once and nothing changed.”

I hear this one a lot. It’s a myth that is easily debunked by thinking about your car. If you go for years without getting your car checked, when you take it to the mechanic it’s going to require more work than if you had come in for regular tune-ups. Similarly, if you’ve had back pain for six months, it will probably take more than one treatment before you notice results.

After your first treatment, an acupuncturist usually will provide an estimate for how many treatments you’re likely to need. This is always an estimate because response times to acupuncture can vary widely, but it’s a good guideline.

Acupuncture is a cumulative process, much like going to the gym: You don’t start running faster or lifting heavier weights after just one trip. That said, most people notice at least some changes after 10 treatments. If you haven’t seen any improvement after giving it 10 appointments, I suggest trying another acupuncturist.

“Acupuncture doesn’t work because we don’t know how it works.”

This is an understandable misconception. When it comes to concepts with which we are unfamiliar, it’s comforting to have solid proof. Although there is tentative evidence of acupuncture’s efficacy, definitive, Western-friendly proof of how acupuncture works is unavailable.

There is good reason for this. Controlled, double-blind trials are inappropriate for studying acupuncture. Most acupuncture research models look at a standard selection of acupuncture points to determine if they are effective for a certain condition. But from an acupuncture perspective, one condition can have several different causes—and therefore would require completely different point selections.

Researchers are beginning to look at acupuncture using MRI. I believe this method of studying acupuncture is the most promising yet. Rather than concentrating on people’s perceptions, which can be misled by placebos or prejudices, the MRI studies look directly at how acupuncture changes brain activity. These MRI studies also address findings from previous research that show effects from fake or “sham” acupuncture. Through MRI, we know that both real and sham acupuncture relieve pain but that the effects on the brain are considerably different.

We may not know yet exactly how acupuncture works, but we are gaining a better understanding of the therapeutic effect that acupuncture causes.

“Acupuncture hurts.”

I disagree with acupuncturists who say that acupuncture needles are so thin you can’t even feel them. In my experience, most people definitely feel acupuncture.

When needles are inserted in the right places, they often produce a feeling of heaviness, kind of like a dull ache. Since this sensation is unfamiliar for most people who have never had acupuncture before, it’s commonly interpreted as pain.

If I describe this dull-achy feeling to people before beginning a treatment, they are less likely to experience the sensation as pain. They are prepared, which means their bodies are less tense. Often the “hurt” associated with acupuncture can be attributed to anxiety about the unknown.

I also make a point of telling my patients that acupuncture—rarely, but on occasion—can cause pain after a treatment. Sometimes needles in certain acupuncture points, after they’re removed, can cause a residual feeling of ache, almost like a bruise. When people understand ahead of time that this is a completely normal outcome, their perception of acupuncture as something that hurts seems to shift.

“Acupuncture is religious.” (Also known as “Acupuncture is voodoo.”)

I have been told, “I don’t believe in acupuncture because I’m a Christian.” Although it’s becoming less common as the general public gets more educated about acupuncture, the myth of acupuncture as a religion or supernatural phenomenon remains.

Acupuncture is not religious, nor is it voodoo. There is nothing supernatural or otherworldly happening during an acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture is a healthcare modality designed to help balance your body’s various, interconnected systems.

I believe some of the misinformation surrounding acupuncture’s origins and intentions stems from the word “qi,” which is often described as “vital energy.”

A better interpretation of what ancient Chinese practitioners meant by qi is simply oxygen. They understood that oxygen and nutrients were needed throughout the body in order for it to function properly. They called it qi and Blood, but acupuncture is merely a tool for moving the oxygen and nutrients our bodies need to thrive.

You don’t need to believe in acupuncture in order to experience its benefits because there is nothing to “believe” in.

If you’re wondering about any other beliefs about acupuncture, check out the AcuTake Acupuncturist Directory, where other acupuncturists from around the world debunk common myths about acupuncture.

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Five days of acupuncture

Image: sarniebill1 via Flickr

Do acupuncturists have acupuncture treatments? You bet we do.

Last week, I had five acupuncture sessions in five consecutive days. I must admit, this is quite an indulgence even for myself, but it felt ever so good.

Spring always catches me off-guard, especially spring in London. The weather is ridiculously unpredictable: the sun teases you with her rays and then the wind appears to show you who’s the boss. Having grown up in Greece where a sunny day equals a warm day, I still get caught out by the bright glare outdoors to discover that it’s not quite tropical weather just yet. This isn’t helped by the number of overenthusiastic people parading about in short sleeves already. They may have an abundance of yang qi, but I definitely don’t and I pay for it if I don’t continue with my layers.

I don’t know what is about the spring but I always feel under the weather, which is so annoying when the world is coming alive again with the flowers pushing through the earth and the ducks and geese squawk and honk merrily. Whereas most people feel sluggish at the first signs of colds and flu around September and October time, my own body finds the emergence of yang qi out of winter mode more difficult to handle.

So instead of having my usual maintenance session this month, I had five, all in one week. It was difficult to squeeze them all in, but once I had committed and marked the appointments down it became a non-issue. I had mine in the beginning of the day as I work late, but oh how I would’ve loved to have my sessions in the evening.

During the first two treatments I was completely knocked out, sleeping on the treatment bed as soon as the needles were in, with the dull sense of de-qi keeping me company. On the third treatment I was sleepy but awake and by the end of the week I could feel the acupuncture changing from having a restorative and tonifying effect on my body to an invigorating and balancing one.

It was wonderful, and the little moments of calm during my week were sublime. How are you preparing yourself for spring?

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Pain relief with PAP injections may last 100 times longer than a traditional acupuncture treatment

Image: D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr

Last week I blogged about the newest research showing that acupuncture can improve skeletal muscle atrophy in mice. Well these are exciting times as researchers around the world are looking at the mechanisms of acupuncture (which unfortunately are still unknown) and applying them in a whole new way.

Traditionally acupuncture uses the concepts of qi and blood (which is basically oxygen and nutrients) in the channels (or vessels) and helping direct them to where they are needed most. If you are deficient in either qi or blood, then the acupuncturist will use the tonifying method and point selection. Likewise if there is a blood stasis (think back to the nightmare traffic jam) then the acupuncture method chosen would be of the moving variety, to help remove the blockage, or stagnation, and get the traffic going again.

Recent studies have looked at these concepts from outside the box. Researchers still don’t know how acupuncture works exactly but that hasn’t stopped them from applying them in new and wonderful ways.

Take this new finding from scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who have identified a new way to deliver long-lasting pain relief through acupuncture.

Injecting prostatic acid phosphatise (PAP) into the spine of rodents eased chronic pain for up to three days. Unfortunately the method of delivery, spinal injections, are invasive and must be performed in a clinical setting meaning they are typically reserved for patients with excruciating pain.

Mark J. Zylka, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology and the UNC Neuroscience Center, explains:

“When an acupuncture needle is inserted into an acupuncture point and stimulated, nucleotides are released. These nucleotides are then converted into adenosine. Adenosine has antinociceptive properties, meaning adenosine can decrease the body’s sensitivity to pain.”

Zylka and his team injected PAP in the soft tissue behind the knee (the acupuncture point, Weizhong) and found that pain relief lasted 100 times longer than a traditional acupuncture treatment. Also, by avoiding the spine the researchers could increase the dose of PAP. A single injection was also effective at reducing symptoms associated with inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain.

In the eyes of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) this is still masking the symptom and not treating the root of the illness (in this case, the cause of the severe pain). However possibilities like these mean that more research will be done into acupuncture and the mechanics involved, both molecularly and neurologically. This can only be a good thing.


Pain relief with PAP injections may last 100 times longer than a traditional acupuncture treatment.  ScienceDaily.  Retrieved April 24, 2012, from /releases/2012/04/120423103715.htm

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Japanese researchers show that acupuncture can improve skeletal muscle atrophy

Image: Steve-h via Flickr

Japanese researchers have revealed study results that show how acupuncture therapy mitigates skeletal muscle loss and holds promise for those seeking improved mobility through muscle rejuvenation.

Akiko Onda, an acupuncturist and graduate student at the Waseda University School of Sport Sciences presented the findings at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting, part of Experimental Biology 2012. She said, “It is my hope that this study will demonstrate acupuncture’s feasibility with regard to improving health among the elderly and medical patients. Our findings could identify acupuncture as the primary nonpharmacological treatment to prevent skeletal muscle atrophy in the future.”

Skeletal muscle atrophy is the loss of skeletal muscle, more common amongst the elderly and the sick. The usual recommendations to stave off muscle atrophy are exercise, improved nutrition and mechanical stimulation, but this can be difficult for the frail or those who have severe medical conditions.

Onda insists an alternative nonpharmacological intervention is urgently required, and so she and her collaborators in two labs at Waseda University decided to explore how acupuncture affects skeletal muscle at the molecular level. Her  team found that decreases in muscle mass in mice can be significantly reversed by acupuncture.

“Our results have uncovered one molecular mechanism responsible for the efficacy of acupuncture treatment and clarified its usefulness in preventing skeletal muscle atrophy in mice,” Onda said. “We hope to introduce acupuncture as a new strategy for preventing skeletal muscle atrophy in the future. Further investigations into its molecular mechanisms will help to decrease the medical community’s suspicion of acupuncture and provide us with a better understanding of how acupuncture treatment prevents skeletal muscle atrophy.”


Japanese Researchers Show that Acupuncture can Improve Skeletal Muscle Atrophy.  Newswise.  Retrieved April 24, 2012, from

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The needling question about acupuncture


Over the years I’ve come to realize that the number one, all important, billion dollar question in everyone’s mind when you bring up acupuncture is, “Does it hurt?”


Sure they may ask what acupuncture is good for; can it help with weight loss; does it work (?); how many treatments will it take; but what they’re really thinking is “Go on, be honest it hurts like heck, doesn’t it?”


I explain that the insertion of needle is swift but the more important sensation we’re aiming for is that of “de qi” which, while not painful, can be quite strange for those first-timers. Generally I’ve learned that people having acupuncture for the first time expect the worst and are almost pleasantly surprised.

Ironically the most awkward moment I’ve ever had in a first consultation was with a patient who had had acupuncture before, from a physiotherapist. As it turns out, what she’d had all this time was dry needling (also known as trigger point dry needling or medical acupuncture) which is completely separate from traditional acupuncture. The two share no common ground besides the actual insertion of needles so you can imagine my patient’s surprise when she felt the heavy dull ache and busy “activity” of de qi during her treatment.


The best descriptions of a traditional acupuncture session, I find, are those from the point of view of the receiver, you the patient. You tell me about your anxieties and nervousness, we work together to steady the breathing, you give me the cue to continue our chat or we have an easy silence. I recently came across a blog about three women on their fertility journeys and I think this particular blog post of an acupuncture treatment describes the feeling completely. 


Photo credit: Ernest Vikne via flickr

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Pointspace’s February roundup | Acupuncture Awareness Week and top sleep-deprived occupations



Snow in London two weekends in a row was a lovely impromptu present. It brought out some creative folk who deemed snowmen terribly passé: instead there were creations like a “Snowasaurus” and a giant turtle. Then as if being a leap year wasn’t enough, February this year decided to give us early sightings of spring with daffodils in bloom. 


1.  What do you think has more of an influence on our health and longterm happiness: conditions under which we were born with or decisions we make in mid life? Happily, a study had shown that we may indeed have more say in destiny.

The study of normal adult development at Harvard, one of the longest studies at 74 years, has shown some surprising and obvious answers. It turns out that having a difficult childhood matters a lot in early adulthood but less so as the years go by. Education is more important in determing life success than income or social status. The big revelation to have come out of the study so far is that your situation at 50 is a bigger indicator of your health and happiness at 70 than the earlier years.

2.  I once saw a documentary on Pixar, the animation company that made some of my all time favourite movies including Toy Story (1, 2 and 3) and Up. From great fun, open spaces to employees using kick scooters to get from one department to the other, it seems like a wonderful place to work. Silicon Valley has always had a long tradition of being geekily cool, which is probably what keeps their creative juices going. Therefore it should come as no surprise that companies like Google and Twitter offer their employees acupuncture  as “antidote to staring at computers all day” and to benefit wellness.

3.  This week (27 Feb – 4 March) is the UK’s first ever Acupuncture Awareness Week. TV presenter Clare Nasir talks about having acupuncture to support her IVF treatments (video).

4.  A chain of restaurants in the States has come up with a limited edition milkshakebacon-flavoured. Yes, it left me speechless as well.


5.  Finally, do you get enough sleep? A look at the most sleep-deprived and well-rested occupations in the US shows that there isn’t much much difference between the most rested and the most sleep-deprived: they still get less than the recommended 7-9 hours).


Photo credit: Mark Hillary via flickr

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