Acupressure for weight loss maintenance?
I was as surprised as you might be when I came across this recent review of clinical trials for weight loss maintenance that listed as one of the methods that had some evidence of success.
One of the questions I am most often asked is “can acupuncture make me lose weight?” Much as I would like to answer an easy “yes,” I haven’t seen any supportive evidence or credible mechanism regarding how acupuncture or acupressure by themselves could make somebody lose weight.
I have seen acupuncture help with weight loss indirectly:
–acupuncture/acupressure can reduce stress, which may help reduce the tendency to overeat or indulge in “comfort foods” as a coping response;
–acupuncture/acupressure can relieve pain and heal injuries, so if a gamey leg or sore shoulder is getting in the way of exercising, yes, acupuncture can help get you in shape to work out again.
But a direct effect of acupressure that is demonstrated across a random sample of people?
I came across this study showing acupressure’s effect on body weight by accident. I was looking for recent meta-analyses of clinical trials regarding weight loss and maintenance. As the science regarding body weight is always being refined, I like to keep current on what has shown the best evidence of helping people to lose weight and keep it off.
This review of clinical trials looks at outcomes only, and doesn’t explain the mechanisms of weight maintenance. And the researchers note that:
“this study included only 43 participants and was just 12 weeks in length after 12 weeks of weight-loss treatment, a time period that coincides with typical peak weight-loss.6 Another trial that examined acupressure for weight loss found no significant effect.”
Although this study looked only at acupressure, acupuncture generally has similar but more potent effects. Given the relative safety and low cost of acupressure or acupuncture, compared to bariatric surgery (“stomach stapling”), gastric pacemakers, or any of the serious health consequences of uncontrolled weight gain, both are certainly worth a try…but I would add the caveat that the (sedentary) time on the treatment table still needs to be complemented with caloric restriction, regular exercise, and other methods that have established evidence behind them for weight loss.
The other interventions that this meta-analysis found to be effective for weight loss maintenance included:
“treatment with orlistat or sibutramine combined with dietary modification, caffeine or protein supplementation, consuming a diet lower in fat, adherence to physical activity routines, prolonged contact with participants, [and] problem-solving therapy”
It should be remembered that this study addressed weight loss maintenance–meaning that the participants had already lost weight. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that for adults to lose weight, a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity is required on most days (5 or more) of the week. One measure of whether you have reached the “moderate” threshold is whether you are breathing hard enough to make it difficult to talk, and simultaneously breaking a sweat–if not, the exercise intensity is only considered “light”–still beneficial, but at least double the hours are required for an equivalent degree of weight loss.
To maintain body weight and prevent weight gain, ACSM recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigourous aerobic exercise on most days of the week.
Note that in either case, it is the total duration of activity that counts, not its contiguity–in other words, 60 minutes can be accomplished in 4 x 15-minute segments (which is actually preferable to 60 continuous minutes in terms of reducing risks of repetitive strain injuries). Also, it doesn’t matter what makes you breathe hard and sweat–if it’s gardening, brisk walking, cleaning house, or running errands by bicycle, it counts.
While there is no escaping the basic requirement of burning more calories than we consume in order to lose body weight, some techniques have been shown to more effective than others at both ends of the calorie equation. In future articles, I’ll write more about dietary modification and adherence to physical activity routines–other safe, proven, and low-to-no cost methods of keeping weight off.
And, as this study suggests, acupuncture and acupressure may also help with weight management, by reducing stress-induced over-eating, by promoting injury recovery and reducing barriers to physical activity–and perhaps by as-yet unidentified mechanisms!