MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Acupuncture is often promoted as a therapeutic option for obesity and weight control. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of electroacupuncture (EA) on body weight, body mass index (BMI), skin fold thickness, waist circumference and skin temperature of the abdominal region in non-obese women with excessive abdominal subcutaneous fat.

A total of 50 women with excessive abdominal subcutaneous fat (and average BMI of 22) were randomly assigned to one of two groups:

  1. an EA group (n = 25) receiving 10 EA sessions (insertion of needles connected to an electrical stimulator at a frequency of 40 Hz for 40 min),
  2. a control group (n = 25) that received no treatment.

Outcome measures evaluated included waist circumference, supra-iliac and abdominal skinfolds, body composition and superficial skin temperature (measured by cutaneous thermography) before and after treatment.

Compared with the untreated group, women in the EA group exhibited decreased supra-iliac and abdominal skin folds (p < 0.001), waist circumference (p < 0.001), percentage body fat (p = 0.001) and percentage abdominal fat (p < 0.001). In addition, the EA group showed an elevated skin temperature at the site of the treatment. However, EA did not significantly impact body weight (p = 0.01) or BMI (p = 0.2).

The authors concluded that EA promoted a reduction in abdominal waist circumference, supra-iliac and abdominal skin folds, and percentage body and abdominal fat in women of normal BMI with excessive abdominal subcutaneous fat, as well as an increase in the superficial skin temperature of the abdominal region.

If we did not know that acupuncture researchers were all honest investigators testing hypotheses the best they can, we could almost assume that some are trying to fool us. The set-up of this study is ideally suited to introduce a proper placebo treatment. All one has to do is to not switch on the electrical stimulator in the control group. Why did the researchers not do that? Surely not because they wanted to increase the chances of generating a positive result; that would have been dishonest!!!

So, as it stands, what does the study tell us? I think it shows that, compared to patients who receive no treatment, patients who do receive the ritual of EA are better motivated to adhere to calorie restrictions and dietary advice. Thus, I suggest to re-phrase the conclusions of this trial as follows:

The extra attention of the EA treatment motivated obese patients to eat less which caused a reduction in abdominal waist circumference, supra-iliac and abdominal skin folds, and percentage body and abdominal fat in women of normal BMI with excessive abdominal subcutaneous fat.

18 Responses to Acupuncture against obesity? No, I don’t think so!

  • “superficial skin temperature (measured by cutaneous thermography)”

    QUOTE
    Woo is understood specifically as dressing itself in the trappings of science (but not the substance) while involving unscientific concepts, such as anecdotal evidence and sciencey-sounding words.
    — Woo, RationalWiki
    END of QUOTE

    “However, EA did not significantly impact body weight (p = 0.01) or BMI (p = 0.2)”

    Something not quite right there: did the subjects change height, but not weight?

    • well spotted; thanks

    • This reminds me of a study that got approved (despite my objection) for a cosmetic treatment for removing subcutaneous fat from under the chin. The investigator admitted that the magic potion was a form of soap that simply dissolved the fat, and that the fat simply migrated around until the soap broke down and the fat was deposited ‘elsewhere’ ie hips, belly… ie a skinny chin, but lumpy waist. The irony was that the chin fat would re-accumulate as this was the patients genetic predisposition. So another round of ‘magic chin treatment’ would be necessary… and repeat forever ie the perfect cosmetic product!!

  • Because the needles would act in some way whether power was on or not. Best control group is no treatment at all. And sham acupuncture does not exist. Needles anywhere have some effect.

    • that’s rubbish!

    • And sham acupuncture does not exist. Needles anywhere have some effect.

      Yep, in particular in the leathery structure called ‘the wallet’, where they can cure the condition of hyperpecuniosis – an ailment that is all too common in SCAM adherents.

    • An experimental control, often referred to as a “control group”, is a population or set of objects that is statistically similar to the set being tested, on which no changes are implemented. In psychology and biology, the control group is very important, since results are often statistical rather than concrete. For instance, in testing a drug for a malady, some percentage of the test subjects will heal with no intervention (or heal at some rate in a third group, people getting an existing remedy). The control group yields this number, and the group getting the treatment under test can be compared to this to determine efficacy. While it is less of an issue in the physical sciences, part of the description of how to set up an appropriate experiment should always address what controls are used to limit the independent variables to the one of concern.

      A control group’s purpose is to make sure that any observed results are statistically related to the tests being performed, and not simply random occurrences that happen anyway. A good control group has subjects that, in every important way, resemble the experimental group, except for the difference in the experimental condition.

      — Experimental control, RationalWiki
      https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Experimental_control

    • Because the needles would act in some way whether power was on or not.

      That’s what the authors of this study think. They say

      Acupuncture, as a complementary and alternative medical treatment, has shown some promise as a therapeutic option for obesity and weight control.

      So the authors wanted to include any effect the needles by themselves would have, rather than subtracting them out by acupuncturing the control group.

      • the authors thus wanted to fool us by pretending the placebo effect is a specific effect of acupuncture.

        • MD’s can guilty of the same when they prescribe some chemical medications.
          They have no clue if the medication will be effective for the specific patient or not.
          In many cases the MD has about a 60% chance of the medication being effective, as indicated from the RCT’s. However, this assumes that everything within the trial was legit and honest…. which we well know may not be 100% truthful. The efficacy of pharma drugs are largely overstated.

          So, I give chemical medications about a 50/50 chance of being effective. Effective at lowering the symptoms in some cases, while leaving the disease untreated.

          • James Joromat,

            You speak the truth about chemical medications pushed by big pharma. I don’t know what qualifications you have (I bet none!!) but you are very generous in your estimate. But none of the pharma drugs are as efficacious as you declared them to be. I give them a 1% chance of working. You must have come up with your 50% estimate by counting the number of drugs that worked on you and people around you. I did the same but with a critical eye and an unbiased attitude and came up with 1% and I am correct. I think your estimate is biased and judgment clouded because you still use pharma drugs and think they are useful, but on the other hand you cannot stand medical professionals and pharma companies. Therefore, you comment on this blog and poo poo on them as though you are an expert on everything related to medicine. You often talk a big talk but you neither have the evidence to back up your claims nor possess an unprejudiced attitude to gather such evidence. I pity your trifling existence!

            If you want to be an impartial judge of big pharma you should first ween yourself off the drugs. You might be thinking, how on earth would one do that? What happens if one gets sick? How can one get by without drugs? Don’t you worry, I am an expert in an alt-med technique that I developed myself and using it I can cure any illness with 100% efficacy. This is how it works – when you get sick you pay a lot of money to make an appointment on my website. I then ship you a couple of pounds of fresh cow dung, don’t worry I pack it in such a way that a bloodhound will not be able to smell that doo doo. At the time of your appointment, you smear the cow shit on your face and sit in a chair with eyes closed, literally shit-faced. At the same time, from thousands of miles away I send you waves of pure quantum energy using a technique called distance healing. The cow dung face mask acts as a conduit and allows your body to absorb that quantum energy for maximal therapeutic effect. I call this technique Quantum Cowpathy. I am willing to let you try a session for free, just pay $29.99 for shipping and handling of said bull shit. I don’t think you are foolish enough to forgo such a brilliant offer.

    • Placebo acupuncture needles exist: They give the sensation of needle penetration without any actual penetration. I have approved studies that use them. Test subjects do not know whether they are receiving the real or placebo needles.
      ALSO:
      Placebo acupuncture exist: The acupuncture needles AND/OR treatment protocol (sham and/or real) are administered in ways that are not ‘acupuncture’ (in a repeatable controlled way by a non-acupuncturist eg one of the investigators) eg using non-acupuncture needle locations AND/OR depths AND/OR timings.

  • The set-up of this study is ideally suited to introduce a proper placebo treatment. All one has to do is to not switch on the electrical stimulator in the control group.

    Electroacupuncture would likely feel different from regular acupuncture, or sham acupuncture.
    Some studies suggest that electrical stimulation can reduce body fat. For example, Effects of Electrical Muscle Stimulation on Waist Circumference in Adults with Abdominal Obesity: A Randomized, Double-blind, Sham-Controlled Trial, where the control group received TENS.
    EMS decreased waist circumference more than TENS did, and it also increased blood free fatty acid levels in the blood (a biomarker for lipolysis) more than TENS did.
    Another study investigated the effect of high-frequency current on abdominal obesity.

    High-frequency current therapy uses an alternating current of ≥ 100,000 Hz that converts electrical oscillation energy into thermal energy during application. In high-frequency current therapy, shortened conduction time with a pulse duration of 0.001 milliseconds causes intense heating effects in a local region without stimulating sensory and motor nerves, facilitating the body’s consumption of fat.

    This study also didn’t use a placebo, which is too bad. It seems like they could easily have done a sham treatment on the control group, since the high-frequency current wasn’t perceptible.
    They said

    These results indicate that the changing trends of [waist circumference, abdominal obesity rate, subcutaneous fat mass, and body fat percentage] between pretest and posttest differed significantly between the groups, suggesting the effects of high-frequency current therapy in decreasing obesity.

    The women’s BMI didn’t change significantly.

    The extra attention of the EA treatment motivated obese patients to eat less which caused a reduction in abdominal waist circumference, supra-iliac and abdominal skin folds, and percentage body and abdominal fat.

    They said the electroacupuncture didn’t change either these women’s body weight or their BMI, so that doesn’t seem to be the explanation.
    How does the electricity used in the electroacupuncture study compare to EMS or TENS or high-frequency electrical therapy? They say

    the EA group showed an elevated skin temperature at the site of the treatment,

    so there was enough energy used to cause some heating.
    It would have been good to measure the women’s free fatty acid levels as well in this study, as a measure of lipolysis.

  • Traditional Chinese Pseudomedicine

    “Zhōngyīxué” is the name given in China to the “doctrine of Chinese medicine,” which is highly regarded there alongside evidence-based medicine. In the West, we know this under the term “Traditional Chinese Medicine”. This originated at a time when medical understanding was still largely based on magical thinking. Most of the various forms of treatment, which are still used today, are based on concepts that turned out to be scientifically untenable. Not only humans, but also animals must suffer for these substantially esoterisch coined teachings still today unnecessarily. High time to call a spade a spade.

    https://hpd.de/artikel/traditionell-chinesische-pseudomedizin-20454

    An interesting article about TCM. However, it is available in German only.

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