September 2009

Acupuncture and Weight Loss

By Elliot Wagner, O.M.D., L.Ac., Doctor of Oriental Medicine

It was evening. I was finishing up a busy day, and seeing my last patient. Gizelle, my office manager, had already left for the day to take care of her young family. The patient and I were having a conversation about the medical problem that brought her to acupuncture, rheumatoid arthritis. She is a young woman, bright and attractive, and interested in understanding the Chinese medical perspective on her condition. At some point in the exchange I referred back to something that had come up in past treatment sessions. I said that her condition was closely associated with the extra weight she is carrying. "From a Chinese medical point of view," I said, "they have a similar source; they are branches stemming from the same original root."

"But," I said, "please hear me out. I am not telling you that you are too heavy. That would be like telling you that you are in too much pain, or that your joints are too swollen. That would be calling attention to a symptom and not the problem."

"No," I said, "The real problem is that your body is creating and holding on to too much dampness."

"What do you mean by dampness?" she asked.

"According to Chinese medical thinking," I said, "if someone consistently eats the wrong foods for their body type, or eats too much, one of the results is dampness, which we can understand as the by-products of inefficiently and incompletely digested food, together with mucus from the digestive system."

"Dampness clogs the digestive system, preventing the 'rising of the clear essence' to the rest of the body. Dampness tends to migrate. It can settle in the joints, which is the reason for your arthritis. But it also can show up in the respiratory system as chronic colds or allergies, with constant sneezing and running, which are the body's attempt to discharge it. It is toxic, and can be a source of congestion and inflammation throughout the body, particularly the liver."

"Without appropriate treatment," I said, "dampness is resistant to change," I said. "The Chinese think of it like mud or quicksand: full of water, but stagnant, congested. The body's toxic accumulation of dampness is a principle reason people feel tired and ill when they have arthritis or other auto-immune conditions, like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome."

"Another symptom of dampness is excessive weight, both fat and cellulite. We all know people who explain away their excess weight by saying, 'It's not fat, it's water weight.' According to Chinese medicine, there is truth in that."

"Well, then," said my patient, "How do I get rid of dampness, and lose my weight AND my arthritis?"

"That's the right question," I said. "There are steps you will need to take if you want to rebalance your body, restore your health, and lose the weight. The first is observation. Observe yourself, and see if what I'm saying applies to you. If it does, then the next step is making a decision to go forward."

"I will prescribe a regimen of acupuncture and herbs that removes dampness and rids your body of toxicity. Years of dampness in the system mean the body has been malnourished, because the function of the pancreas, stomach and small intestine are compromised by dampness; so, in addition, a regimen of the proper supplements is important, as is exercise. Each body presents with its own set of symptoms, and using yours to diagnose your individual pattern will tell me how to help you rebalance your body. Next, you will need to make changes in what and how you eat, based on Chinese principles. This is critically important for most people. I will help you to do that as well."

"I notice," said my patient, "that you have taken off quite a bit of weight yourself. How did you do it?" "By exactly what I am recommending to you," I said. "I've lost close to 40 pounds so far this year. I can show you how to do it, too, if you want it.