Auriculotherapy: Stimulate your ear, lose weight from your rear
Evidence is accumulating that taping six metal beads to specific points on the ear helps weight loss. Photo: Getty
You’re doing all the right things to lose weight. Eating more vegetables, and at the same time cutting back overall on the calories.
You’re exercising most days, endeavouring to get to bed earlier, and drinking more water.
A little weight has dropped off but, really, it’s just not happening as you’d hoped.
Maybe (probably) you’re snacking a little more than you realise in blind response to hunger pangs that won’t abide.
What to do?
Keeping a food diary might help, but you have to be strict with the calorie-counting: No fudging about that piece of fudge you had after lunch.
Increasing your fibre intake might help: Get the bowels moving.
Introduce some foods that the body can’t digest easily.
A grain like red sorghum – full of starches that aren’t properly digested by the human gut – makes you feel full but has relatively few calories that can be taken up by the body.
Another alternative is … auriculotherapy, better known among the weight-obsessed TikTok community as “ear seeds”.
Yes, auriculotherapy is trendy, and has been noisily appropriated by wellness gurus on the social media platform.
A useful explainer by a TikToking acupuncturist Dr Dawn Garrison has been liked more than 10 million times.
But don’t let that put you off.
What is auriculotherapy?
Auriculotherapy is a form of health care where the external surface of the ear, or auricle, “is stimulated to alleviate pathological conditions in other parts of the body”.
This is based on the idea that the ear contains access points to all the body’s organs and its systems.
How might it work for weight loss?
By regulating the endocrine system, modulate metabolism, promote digestion, and lessen oxidative stress. That’s what the studies so far suggest. Better studies are needed to make these findings conclusive.
Everyone’s heard of acupuncture, right?
When fine needles are used to stimulate these points on the era, this is acupuncture – for which there is growing evidence for its efficacy in pain management.
Acupuncture is said to treat a range of conditions, including allergies, anxiety and depression, hypertension, insomnia and other ailments.
The evidence is scanty. There are simply not enough good studies yet to support these claims.
Chinese and Western perspectives
In Chinese traditional medicine, acupuncture is a “technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force – known as chi or qi (chee) – believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body”.
By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that “your energy flow will re-balance”.
Western doctors and practitioners adopted acupuncture more than 200 years ago – and formed a different theory.
They regard acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. Some believe that this stimulation “boosts your body’s natural painkillers”.
When a fingertip or a small bead is taped in place, over a nerve-rich area, this is acupressure. No puncturing. When the focus is confined to the ear, that’s auriculotherapy.
Auriculotherapy originated in Chinese medicine, but was independently developed 70 years ago in France by a Dr Paul Nogier.
He and his colleagues demonstrated that specific areas of the external ear were associated with pathology in specific parts of the body.
For an interesting history of how auriculotherapy arose in two different cultures, see here.
Auriculotherapy and weight loss
Just going by the scale of TikTok enthusiasm, a lot of people swear by auriculotherapy as an aid to weight loss.
Research is yet to catch up with that enthusiasm. But it’s slowly getting there.
In the past 10 years, several small studies have found evidence that stimulating six points on the ear – in tandem with a healthy restricted diet – delivers better weight loss outcomes.
The earlier studies involved acupuncture with needles.
The latest study by Dr Takahiro Fujimoto, from Clinic F, Tokyo, who suggests that food cravings can be controlled “using the simpler method of acupuncture stimulation with beads rather than the traditional use of intradermal needles, which requires expert acupuncturists”.
In other words, the use of beads (and following instructions) opens up auriculotherapy as a DIY treatment.
“Since these tiny metal beads are attached to six points on the outer ear that stimulate nerves and organs which regulate appetite, satiety and hunger, this type of acupuncture does not require complex knowledge or skill,” Dr Fujimoto said.
He said the bead therapy “to aid weight loss” had been used for more than 30 years in Japan.
The new study
The new study enlisted 81 Japanese men who were overweight or obese, and were aged 21 to 78. Their average BMI was 28.4kg/m² with high levels of unhealthy abdominal fat.
The men were treated with auricular therapy with 1.5-millimetre metal ear beads applied to six points of the outer ear.
These points are called shen-men, ‘food pipe’ (esophagus), ‘upper stomach opening’, ‘stomach’, ‘lungs’ and ‘endocrine system’.
Their names don’t necessarily match their function. Stimulation of the ‘lung’, for example, increases satiety (fullness), reduces hunger, and reduces food consumption.
Did the beads help beat hunger pains?
The beads were placed on both ears and kept in place using surgical tape “to ensure the participants were continuously receiving uniform pressure on each of the six acupuncture points”.
They were replaced twice a week during hospital visits.
Meanwhile, participants were asked to reduce their total food intake by half during the three months of their treatment and kept food diaries.
All participants were weighed and measured at the start and end of treatment, including body weight, body fat percentage, fat mass, lean mass, muscle mass, BMI, and abdominal fat to see what impact auricular acupuncture with beads may have.
On average, the participants lost nearly nine kilos.
They also lost an average 10.4 centimetres off their waist circumference (from an average 98.4 centimetres at the start of the study to 88) and 4 per cent of total body fat.
The conclusion that the beads helped facilitate these outcomes – suppressing hunger pangs and promoting feelings of fullness – are built on a couple of assumptions.
For the participants to strictly cut their regular calorie intake in half, for three months, is a real challenge.
And to lose nearly three kilos a month, for three months, is a significant achievement.
The beads were apparently the only support mechanism offered to the participants – and they appear to have been a success.
Two problems: This was a small observation study, that can’t prove causation, and there was no control group.
In a similar 2020 study, from the same Tokyo researchers, a group of overweight or obese Japanese women were treated with beads. They lost significantly more weight than those in a control group who went untreated.
The weight loss was maintained for six months after the end of treatment.
Regarding the new study, Dr Fujimoto said:
“Our findings suggest that acupuncture on the ear may aid weight loss when paired with diet and exercise.
“It’s likely that acupuncture has a positive effect by curbing cravings and appetite, improving digestion, and boosting metabolism.”
The findings were presented last week at the European Congress on Obesity in Dublin.