Imagine getting jabbed on the outer parts of your ear a handful of times and being told you’ll be able to drop a pants size. Farfetched? Actually, the technique is called auricular acupuncture, and a recent study has found that such a practice has significant benefits for losing weight around the waistline.

Ear acupuncture relies on the theory that one’s auricle,  the outer part of the ear, represents the entire brain mapped externally. Like the full-body form of the therapy, auricular acupuncture targets certain behaviors or body parts through tiny needle pricks on corresponding regions of the ear. To conduct their study, researchers from South Korea’s Kyung Hee University targeted five specific points on the outer ears of 91 overweight subjects: spleen, stomach, hunger, endocrine, and shen-men. (Otherwise known as “the divine gate” or “Master point,” shen-men is believed to alleviate nearly all ailments. It is the O negative of ear acupuncture.)

Researchers found that at the end of the eight-week trial, the 58 experimental group subjects (five-point and one-point) showed significant decreases (6.1 vs. 5.7 percent) in their body mass index (BMI). Meanwhile, subjects in the sham group showed no measurable differences. Those who saw success enjoyed slimmer waistlines and reduced belly fat. The researchers chalk their success up to the practice’s known benefits of accelerating metabolism.

“Increased metabolic function promotes metabolization of fat and results in weight loss,” the researchers explained. “Through this mechanism, our results suggest that treatment I is more useful than treatment II in metabolizing abdominal fat.”

The authors point out several limitations to their study, namely the small sample size and inability to control for placebo group blinding. As the researchers concede, “participants in this group might have examined the adhesive dressings in their ears and found no needles.” Also, the dropout rate was fairly high at 36 percent, limiting the balance — thus, the differences — between the two groups.

As a general practice, however, ear acupuncture has become something of a celebrity sensation. International soccer stars to models to actresses have become enamored with the ancient Chinese medicine. Kate moss has used it to kick a cocaine addiction. Chelsea Football Club’s Roman Abramovich has used it, much in line with the present study, to lose weight.

"It may be the latest celebrity fad," Nick Dalton-Brewer, auricular acupuncturist at London’s Hale Clinic told the Daily Mail, "But auricular acupuncture has, in fact, been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, and is hugely helpful in treating all manner of problems, from addictions to insomnia, joint pain, and fertility.”

 

Source: Yeo S, Kim K, Lim S. Randomised clinical trial of five ear acupuncture points for the treatment of overweight people. Acupuncture Medicine. 2013.