Acupuncture is a system of healing closely linked to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) where needles are inserted into specific points in the body to trigger a physiological response. The theory behind weight loss with acupuncture is that a course of treatment sessions will help suppress the appetite and increase the metabolism thereby stimulating the body to burn more calories while eating less.
Acupuncture is now widely practiced in South Africa – both by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and those that practice acupuncture alone. Although it is often believed that acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine is synonymous, the two have become separated in western practices. Today many physiotherapists, chiropractors, medical doctors and other health professionals practice a form of acupuncture without subscribing to any of the beliefs of traditional Chinese medicine. In terms of acupuncture for weight loss, not every acupuncture practitioner will offer this service and you should always verify the qualification and experience of the practitioner who markets this service.
The practice of acupuncture is fully regulated in South Africa and practitioners have to register with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa. If your acupuncturist is not registered with this body then they are illegally practicing acupuncture in South Africa. In terms of acupuncture for weight loss, there is no established program or therapeutic protocol – some practitioners may offer it as a program of multiple acupuncture sessions on its own, others will also offer a healthy eating plan and exercise program and some practitioners may throw in herbal supplements with your acupuncture program.
Acupuncture is based on the belief that by inserting fine needles into specific points of the body, energy channels (meridians) can be opened to restore the balance within the system. A more modern and scientific approach to acupuncture is that needles stimulate the peripheral and central nervous system to restore a normal physiological process. In terms of obesity, it is a matter of ‘resetting’ the body’s metabolism and level of satiety so that you burn more calories while eating less food for quick weight loss.
Most acupuncture practitioners use disposable sterile needles for each treatment session. These acupuncture needles are discarded into a medical waste container which is also known as a sharps container immediately after the treatment . Some practitioners do use gold and silver needles which are not discarded but instead sterilised and used again. If you do not feel comfortable with this practice, you can request that your practitioner uses disposable needles or allow you to purchase your own needles which you can keep with you and bring along for each treatment session. If your practitioner does not have the necessary sterilising equipment and waste disposal containers or refuses to use disposable needles or allow you to keep your own permanent needles, then you should be cautious about their legitimacy.
The effectiveness of these programs have not been verified in clinical trials at reputable institutions. Obesity is a multifaceted disease and requires treatment and management on multiple levels. Acupuncture for weight loss should not be marketed with any guarantees as this is against the rules of their professional association. Before consulting with any practitioner offering acupuncture for weight loss, you should contact the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa and verify that the practitioner is legitimate. Some medical aids in South Africa do pay for acupuncture conducted by registered professionals although weight loss programs are not usually covered by most schemes.