Acupuncture to This Surprising Body Part May Help You Lose Weight, Says New Study

Listen up if you're struggling to trim down: Compelling new research suggests ancient medicine might provide the boost you need to reach your weight loss goals.

Have you ever thought the secret to sustainable weight loss could be hiding in your head? Nope, not your brain—the latest research presented at the May 2023 European Congress on Obesity in Dublin, Ireland suggests that auricular acupuncture could be the breakthrough you’ve been looking for.

Auricular acupuncture is another term for a type of acupuncture that’s performed on the ear. Japanese researcher Takahiro Fujimoto, MD, PhD, MBA (who holds doctorates in medicine and engineering) and his expert team have discovered that ear acupuncture may help curb food cravings, reduce weight, decrease body mass index (BMI), and diminish body fat—all while supporting a mindful diet.

This innovative method diverges from conventional acupuncture, which utilizes intradermal needles and necessitates the skills of a seasoned acupuncturist. Instead, this ear acupuncture for weight loss modality uses small beads adhered to six strategic points on your outer ear.

Dr. Fujimoto stated in a news release via the American Association for the Advancement of Science that these six points “stimulate nerves and organs which regulate appetite, satiety, and hunger.” He adds that this method has been aiding weight loss for over three decades in Japan. (It’s worth noting that multiple sources of data suggested the obesity level for the Japanese population falls in the low single digits, in comparison to the United States’ obesity level of 36%, according to the website for Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.)

Afua Bromley, MSOM, Dipl. Ac (NCCAOM)®, and a licensed acupuncturist at St. Louis/Wellness, echos the role of acupuncture in weight loss. Bromley explained in a press release that while acupuncture may not be the miracle solution to weight loss on its own, it can certainly play a pivotal role when it’s combined with other healthy lifestyle choices including a healthy diet and regular exercise.

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Here’s how ear acupuncture might work for weight loss

This weight loss strategy is rooted in the practices of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. The underlying principle is simple: Your overall health is intrinsically connected to the flow of qi, or energy, throughout your body. This energy travels along pathways known as meridians, extending to every corner of your body.

Ear acupuncture, a unique subset of this practice, hinges on the idea that your outer ear mirrors your entire body. Here, tiny needles or beads are placed at precise points along the meridian lines to unblock and revive the natural flow of qi. As a result, this could alleviate a variety of health problems ranging from weight loss and smoking cessation to battling drug addiction and mitigating post-traumatic stress disorder. While the precise mechanism remains a mystery, 2019 research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests ear acupuncture might regulate the endocrine system, boost metabolism, enhance digestion, and decrease oxidative stress.

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Evidence and considerationsc

The study involved 81 Japanese men aged 21 to 78, all classified as overweight or obese (average BMI of 28.4), carrying high levels of harmful abdominal fat. The ear acupuncture procedure employed 1.5-millimeter metal ear beads, adhered to six specific points on the outer ear: Shen-men (which one source says falls at the center of the upper one-third of the ear), the food pipe, upper stomach opening, stomach, lungs, and the endocrine system.

These beads were secured to both ears with surgical tape, ensuring consistent, even pressure on the six acupuncture points. Alongside the acupuncture, the participants received dietary guidance and consistently monitored their body weight. Their total food intake was reduced by half over the three-month treatment period.

The results were promising. Unhealthy abdominal body fat decreased by an average of two points, and BMI dropped by nearly three points. Participants trimmed an average of 10.4 centimeters off their waistlines and shed 4% of their total body fat. That’s six pounds on a 150-pound individual—which might not sound like much, but could be a potential way to get the ball rolling and kick off a weight loss journey, or a possible way to shed those often stubborn last few pounds as you’re nearing a healthy goal weight.

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Is ear acupuncture really the secret to weight loss?

This research is not the first time Dr. Fujimoto’s work has spotlighted the impressive potential of ear acupuncture. A 2020 study published in OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine demonstrated that Japanese women who were obese or overweight and received bead ear acupuncture experienced more significant weight reduction than those who didn’t undergo the treatment. Even more inspiring, this weight loss was sustained six months post-treatment, demonstrating the long-lasting impact of this method.

Dr. Fujimoto’s findings suggest that coupling ear acupuncture with diet and exercise could facilitate weight loss. Dr. Fujimoto explains that ear acupuncture likely exerts its positive effects by mitigating cravings and appetite, enhancing digestion, and stimulating metabolism.

However, the researchers emphasize a note of caution. Since the study is observational and conducted over a short period with a small group of Japanese men, it cannot conclusively prove causation. But don’t let that deter you! Despite these limitations, the encouraging results are valuable to the emerging body of evidence supporting ear acupuncture as a potential tool for weight loss.

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Medically reviewed by Latoya Julce RN, BSN, on July 13, 2023

Dr. Patricia Varacallo, DO
Tricia is a doctor of osteopathy with experience in primary healthcare. She received her medical degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and conducts clinical research in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, as she is motivated by the desire to contribute to the development of innovative treatments and therapies. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program, empowering individuals to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes. Dr. Varacallo loves to write— especially about health, wellness, and grief. Drawing from her own experiences of loss and caregiving, she loves to offer support and encouragement to those navigating their own grief journeys. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys traveling and exploring the sunny beaches of Florida with her significant other, always ready for their next adventure.