Chinese Medicine and Weight Loss
Many people ask about acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help them lose weight. Although there is no substitute for a good diet and exercise when it comes to weight management, for some people, this may not be enough. From a Chinese medicine perspective, excessive weight gain that is not related to overeating, is related to weak digestion, phlegm excess and/or poor water metabolism. In actuality, all three are connected. The choice of whether to use herbs and/or acupuncture depends on the individuals situation.
It should be mentioned that the use of Ma Huang (ephedra) for weight loss is not a classical Chinese medicine practice. The use of a single herb like Ma Huang to treat any condition is an allopathic principle. That is, take one herb, extract the active ingredient, put it into a pill and use it to target one specific problem. This is more typical of allopathic, Western medicine.
In Chinese medicine multiple herbs are used within an herbal formula. The aim is not to increase metabolism but to restore balance to the flow of Qi/energy, water and to resolve food or phlegm stagnation. Hence all herbal and acupuncture treatments must be for the individual.
According to Chinese medicine principles, poor stomach and spleen function eventually leads to phlegm accumulation, which blocks the smooth flow of Qi, which in turn leads to more water stagnation problems. The word “phlegm” refers to a type of pathological water that is the result of poor digestion. This phlegm can present in different ways. With obesity, it is most evident as excess fat and water retention. The aim is to better regulate the digestion to promote the elimination of this “phlegm” and to improve digestion so that it is not created in the first place.
Herbs that are commonly prescribed in herbal formulas to im-
prove spleen and stomach function include white actractylodes, astragalus, and crataegus. Herbs used to promote metabolism are lotus leaf, alisma, and poria. These herbs are combined with other herbs to help move constrained Qi. The amount of an herb in a formula depends again on the individuals presentation. For some people, the Qi stagnation is the primary concern and for others it may be the phlegm accumulation.
If anxiety is causing an excessive appetite, then acupuncture and herbs can be used to help ease the anxiety. This is best achieved through concomitant use of counseling, particularly if the reasons for overeating are deep seated emotional issues. If these issues are not adequately addressed, then the weight loss is temporary because the emotional triggers for overeating have not been dealt with.
Chinese medicine can be an effective adjunct to diet and exercise in weight management. The best results come from a multidimensional approach.