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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Sleep: The forgotten key to health and wellness

Image: Hugh Buzacott/HBuzacott via Flickr

Do you know the difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia? Not getting enough sleep doesn’t only mean you’ll feel cranky and sluggish. It has profound effects on your physiology and therefore your health and wellbeing.

I see quite a few people in my acupuncture practice with sleep disorders. Our hectic lifestyles today mean that there is more stress leading to lots of over-thinking. How many times have you gone to bed and your mind is still whirring away? Others fall asleep fine but they have difficulty staying asleep or they wake up early. The common factor is that all of this results in a sense of drowsiness when you wake up. Waking up feeling refreshed really is a gift you don’t notice until it disappears.

This is a very informative talk given by Dr. Ellen Hughes at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Be warned, it’s not a short ten minute clip; in fact it’s practically a movie but Dr Hughes’s enthusiasm makes the hour and the half fly by. The Q&A section at the end is quite interesting too.

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Rethinking disease with systems medicine

Image: Hartwig HKD/h.koppdelaney via Flickr

There’s an insightful and ironic quote about medicine from an unknown author which goes like this:

A Short History of Medicine.

2000 B.C.  “Here, eat this root.”

1000 B.C.  “That root is heathen, say this prayer.”

1850 A.D.  “That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.”

1940 A.D.  “That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.”

1985 A.D.  “That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.”

2000 A.D.  “That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.”

It got a few chuckles out of me but it does show you how healthcare and medicine have come full-circle and we are slowly but surely understanding the importance of (w)holistic medicine.

As an acupuncturist, it comes with the territory that I don’t see a symptom as an isolated case separate from the rest of the body and the person. Why does this person have insomnia? Is it because of a back pain or frequent urination keeping them awake at night? Or is it because of stress at work so the overthinking makes it hard for them to fall asleep? Rarely does a health problem arise without other accompanying symptoms. They may seem unrelated but in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) these are all clues just waiting to be noticed by the detective.

So it was with great delight that I saw a short video by Dr. Mark Hyman where he talks about “systems medicine”. Hardly revolutionary in the TCM and acupuncture world, his idea is that “historically we just try to find a drug for the bug or a pill for the ill, instead of really finding out how to treat the body as a system.”

Dr Hyman goes on to say:

“We’re moving from the idea that diseases are things, like bacteria that need to be treated with a drug, like an antibiotic, which was a wonderful paradigm for 20th century illness, but it’s not a good paradigm for chronic lifestyle-driven diseases. We’re looking to choose drugs over lifestyle to treat diseases that are really lifestyle-driven illnesses… The future of medicine is systems medicine. It’s predictive, preventative, it’s participatory and it’s personalised.”

It certainly sounds very familiar to TCM theory, doesn’t it?

Click here to watch the full video.

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A soda ban does not remove liberty – it puts power back in your hands

Image: Ben Ostrowsky/sylvar via Flickr

It’s such a simple and common sense idea that it’s amazing it didn’t happen sooner. On 1 June 2012, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plan to ban large servings of sugary and soft drinks (what they call soda in the US which is completely different from soda water). And when they say large servings, they mean large: in his plan, 32-ounce drinks will be banned (that’s just under one litre at 946mL!). You can still drink ridiculous amounts of the sugary drink of your choice, but you’ll have to buy two 16-ounce ones instead.

Why did the Mayor target the portion size of soft drinks instead of the fat and salt content in fried chicken or the portion size of hamburgers or the amount of butter in popcorn? The simplest answer may be that soft drinks (and alchohol) are full of empty calories. Despite “beer belly” being a mainstream phrase, many people are still unaware that the liquids they guzzle down contribute to weight gain and unlike milk or fresh juices, there is no nutritional value whatsoever in a bottle of fizzy pop.

However, rather than applauding this move to curb obesity, many have voiced their opposition against this plan to ban soda.

Unsurprisingly, the main outcry is coming from the drinks manufacturers themselves, like the tobacco companies before them. That’s understandable, it’s their product and hence their revenue that is coming under attack. But who else is complaining? How can people be angry that ridiculous bucket-sized beverages are being banned?

Rather than look at it from a healthcare point of view, many people seem to take offense and are condemning it as another example of a nanny state.

As the mayor says in this interview:

“We’re not banning you from getting the stuff,” he said on TODAY. “It’s just if you want 32 ounces, the restaurant has to serve it in two glasses. That’s not exactly taking away your freedoms. It’s not something the Founding Fathers fought for.”

There is an interesting discussion on the topic over at The New York Times, with some agreeing that it’s a good gesture but doomed for failure, and others thinking that a soda ban is not the right way to attack the obesity problem.

I for one, think this is a great idea. It’s not withholding the beverage from anyone, just making them stop for a second and think whether they really do want that second drink. It’s mindful eating at its simplest.  At the heart of Chinese medicine is one of moderation and balance. You can eat whatever you want but don’t get carried away and be excessive.

For those who actually do think this constitutes “government overreach”, here’s an inspired analysis of Bloomberg’s ban using the work of John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century English philosopher of liberty.

Do you think this plan has potential to improve the health of a city or even curb obesity? Or do you think it’s the government meddling into people’s lives unnecessarily? Share your thoughts below.

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Food for thought | Mindful eating and Chinese medicine

Image: Nina Matthews Photography via Flickr

Patients often ask for nutritional advice using TCM (Chinese medicine) theory that would complement their treatments. I am always glad when a patient embraces the idea of taking their treatment outside of the treatment room, and I do believe it gives it a larger sense of purpose and responsibility.

Often what I see in my practice is yin deficiency and I often suggest they take some honey in warm water every day to help nourish their yin. Goucizi (or goji berries) also make quite a good yin tonic. It should never be taken longterm though, day in day out, as its very yin-tinkering properties also make it very damp-inducing which is a whole other kettle of fish. I recommend taking it for two weeks (steeped in a glass or two, daily) then having a rest.

If you’re kidney deficient (back pain, knee pain, frequent urination, fatigued or just running on low energy) you can try kidney beans or black beans.

Sometimes though, patients nod when I give them recommendations, but seem more interested in a list of what they can’t or shouldn’t eat. This is when I sometimes go blank because it’s not such a straightforward answer.

TCM relies on a constant flow of change, an ebb and tide to maintain homeostasis. If you’ve overindulged in a portion of salty chips, you’ll naturally feel thirsty and drink some water.

The same goes with our bodies. If you have an excess condition we aim to reduce it, if it’s a deficiency syndrome we tonify your system. Once you’ve reached the balance again, continuing the exact same treatment means we’ll tip on the scale again and you may end up with a deficiency after too much reducing method for too long.

The same goes for foodstuff. Unless it’s an acute symptom like a cough (eat less phlegm inducing food like clementines or mandarins) it’s usually best to learn what you should be eating rather than what you should be avoiding.

Avoidance only makes that thing seem more desirable. How many have failed with a fad diet because they had to cut out something? Harvard nutritionist Lilian Cheung discusses what she calls mindful eating. By not making food an adversary that you need to avoid unless you want to feel guilty and fat, you promote awareness to the things you put in your body. It’s not a matter of dieting or about giving anything up – it’s about experiencing food more intensely.

This is something TCM has known all along. Taking time to eat properly is beneficial for your whole system. Eating on the go, or eating while thinking or worrying damages the organs’ functions in TCM. I suggest sitting down to eat at a table (not your work desk), but you could also easily stand against the kitchen counter. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal setting, but the idea is to make your food the main focus of the moment. Munching through a bag of popcorn is a lot harder when you’re not sitting on the sofa watching TV.

On a social level though it helps promote interaction with others or gives yourself some quiet time. You don’t have to practice monastic silence at meal times; turn off the TV and have a conversation. Try it and see the difference.

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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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Things to worry about

Today is a sweet little girl’s second birthday. Fili can’t read just yet, although she can sing and dance and sign and hug and love with amazing dexterity and enthusiasm. This is for her, and for all of us – some wise words to remind us every day.




Happy birthday Fili!!


Photo credit: K Leoungk

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