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  • Writer's pictureDr Alexandra

Acupuncture for weight management

Weight loss can be challenging and is not as simple as self control. If someone has been overweight for quite a while, there will be chronic changes in energy metabolism and appetite regulation. Lifestyle modifications are the best place to start, however studies on diet and behavioural therapies show that it is difficult to maintain weight stability. Current medications for obesity are associated with adverse gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea… not to mention rebound weight gain. This is where acupuncture may be able to help.


Acupuncture works by stimulating the peripheral nerves which modulate central neuropeptides (signalling molecules). It also has a regulatory effect on the body (which is similar to how the hypothalamus balances homeostasis *hint hint*) which has potential to regulate appetite and weight control.


Appetite and energy metabolism is under the influence of many mechanisms, and most significantly involving the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a small structure deep in the brain that regulates homeostasis through neural and hormonal signals. It communicates with the adipose tissue (fat cells), adrenal glands (stress hormone release) and specific areas of the hypothalamus control appetite.


The function of the hypothalamus in the body is HUGE… from regulating heart rate and blood pressure, appetite and weight, gastrointestinal secretions, sleep cycles, body temperature and producing hormones that tell the pituitary gland how to further instruct the other endocrine glands what to do (e.g. GnRH from hypothalamus -> LH/FSH from the pituitary-> oestrogen/progesterone from the ovaries). It takes in the feedback from the rest of the body and aims to balance the whole body. See our blog post on the hypothalamus for more.


Now into some of the specifics for the acupuncture and neuroscience fanatics:

  • Acupuncture at ST36 (point on the leg) & LI11 (point at the elbow) inhibits the expression of AgRP & NPY, and improves insulin resistance to achieve weight control.

  • ST36 enhances gastrointestinal motility, promotes digestion and can regulate appetite and food intake.

  • Acupuncture can reduce body weight by lowering the expression of AgRP (a peptide hormone which inhibits the production of melanin. It has been found that the release of AgRP increases in the hypothalamus during fasting, and excessive expression in mice resulted in obesity.)

  • ST36 & SP6 (acupuncture points both on the legs) up-regulate the expression of POMC (neurons in the ARC that are projected onto the brainstem, PVN and NPY neurons and bind to melanocortin receptors and after a downstream effect lead to the inhibition of food intake.) POMC neurons in the ARC have been shown to integrate signals from peripheral hormones such as leptin and insulin. Which in summary, this up-regulation inhibited food intake and lead to weight loss in obese mice.

  • Electroacupuncture at ST36 (leg), CV4 (lower abdomen), CV12 (mid abdomen), ST40 (lower leg) can reduce food intake, regulate glucose and lipid metabolism and body weight via promoting the expression of SIRT1 & POMC in the hypothalamus.

  • Electroacupuncture at ST36, SP6, CV12, ST25 may decrease methylation of Tsc1 and suppress mTORC1, reduce the expression of NPY & AgRP and promote expression of POMC, to regulate appetite and alleviate obesity. Acupuncture may exert actions on the regulation of peptides in the ARC to regulate food intake.

  • Electroacupuncture at BL21 (on the back) and CV12 (above the umbilicus) increase gastric motility. Electroacupuncture at CV4, CV3, Zigongxue up-regulate the expression of hypothalamic CRH.

  • The ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMH) is known as the satiety centre of the brain and plays a vital role in energy metabolism and food intake. Lesions of the VMH have shown to lead to hyperphagia and obesity, and electrical stimulation results in decreased food intake. Auricular acupuncture points activate the satiety centre to reduce body weight. Electroacupuncture at ST36 and ST44 leads to increased electrical activity of VMH and results in a long term satiety effect.

  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that is an anorexigenic signal expressed in the VMH which decreases food intake and body weight and can promote the browning of white adipose tissue thus increasing energy expenditure. Increasing the expression of BDNF may have an effect on improving metabolic function. Exercise increases the expression of BDNF, as does Electroacupuncture at GV20 & GV24 (both on the scalp).

  • Electroacupuncture at ST36 & ST44 suppress gastric hyperactivity and suppress appetite, relieve hunger, reduce body weight.

  • 2Hz of EA at ear points (hunger and shen men) and body points (LI4, LI11, ST36 and ST44) reduces blood glucose levels and the body weight). Chang et al. have reported that EA of 15 Hz on bilateral ST36 improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in rats.

In summary, acupuncture stimulates various mechanisms in the brain and influences hormones to regulate appetite and metabolism.


In saying all of this, food intake is not to be disregarded. Acupuncture can regulate appetite and energy metabolism and help connect you to your body’s signals, however you must listen to these signals. You cannot simply eat past what your body tells you and expect results. However, the good thing is that acupuncture can help you reduce stress and anxiety, enhance digestive function, improve your energy levels and sleep all of which can help you along your journey. Allow 8-12 weeks minimum of weekly acupuncture.


In an acupuncture session we will use the acupuncture points from these studies, along with a holistic look at YOUR body and balancing energy flow through the body’s organs. We will give you ear seeds (tiny metal balls with a sticker covering it) on the appetite control, stress relief and digestion points so you can press on the points at home. We may give you Chinese herbal medicine to take. And you will be given dietary advice according to traditional Chinese medicine.



References:

Wang, L., Yu, C., Li, J., Tian, Q. and Du, Y., 2021. Mechanism of Action of Acupuncture in Obesity: A Perspective From the Hypothalamus. Frontiers in Endocrinology, Available at: <https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2021.632324/full>


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