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Losing Weight, Alternative Style

Shira Isenberg, RD MPH

Pins and needles. Hocus Pocus. Detoxification. Here’s the research on three alternative weight loss methods to see if they’re worth trying.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

alternative medicineNeedling with Your Weight

It sounds crazy — poking thin needles into your body with the hope that it will boost your metabolism or otherwise improve your health? But doctors and patients alike contend that the age-old practice of acupuncture has been around for so long because it works.

Traditional Chinese medicine, which includes acupuncture along with a host of other therapies (like massage and herbal treatments), is based on the belief that the body is more than just its anatomical structures. To maintain good health and keep the organs functioning properly, the various parts of the body must work in harmony with each other.

Overweight or obesity signals a problem with the balance the various body parts need to maintain, usually centered in the spleen. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the spleen is more than just a processor of old blood cells — it’s integral for controlling digestion and immune function. The spleen is thought to be responsible, in part, for ensuring that a person’s metabolism runs at an optimal level.

When spleen function is disturbed — by, say, eating too much or just too much of the wrong foods, not getting enough sleep, or leading a stressful life — the metabolic rate is lower than it should be and the hunger center in the brain is not properly regulated. “Stress is the number one reason digestion doesn’t work properly and metabolism is off,” emphasizes Dr. Chongpin Zhu, an acupuncturist atVanderbiltUniversity’s Center for Integrative Health.

There are several methods acupuncturists use to restore the body’s balance, the most well-known of which is based on the Meridian Theory, the idea that energy flows throughout the body via 14 different channels or meridians. Chinese medicine practitioners diagnose the energy problem by taking a thorough history including a review of diet, lifestyle factors like stress level and amount of sleep, as well as symptoms. This helps them pinpoint the meridian to target with acupuncture treatments.

To stimulate the flow of energy, thin needles are placed along the appropriate meridian. For example, to improve spleen energy, needles follow the meridian from the big toe upwards, tracing the spleen and heart until it culminates just below the tongue. The meridians may also be stimulated with pressure from the hands instead of needles — called acupressure. 


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