What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice of placing fine, filiform needles into the body at specific points for therapeutic effect.
According to Dr. Neemez Kassam, Associate Professor of Asian Medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, there are two schools of thought on how acupuncture works: The Western perspective whereby acupuncture releases endorphins which produce natural euphoric activity, and the traditional approach where acupuncture regulates the flow of QI, or energy, bringing the body back into balance.
Around for more than 2,500 years, this relatively painless healing technique has become more and more popular in Canada over the past two decades, and is now recognized as a safe and effective treatment for everything from migraine pain to infertility, and is often used to help with weight loss and weight management.
Should you try it?
To incorporate acupuncture into your own life, Dr. Kassam says you must first have a consultation with your chosen practitioner to clarify the reasons for your weight problem, whether physiological due to issues such as a slow metabolism, menopause or thyroid problems, or behavioural due practices like overeating and binge eating.
"If there is a craving issue and potentially an eating disorder, then that can be controlled with the acupuncture," says Dr. Kassam, "but also if it's a metabolic one, where they're not eating that much but putting on weight, then the acupuncture can help stimulate the metabolism and also their digestive system so things don't sit around as long."
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Once the nature of your disorder has been identified, your caregiver can choose the correct treatment plan for you, targeting acupuncture points that will work to reduce cravings and appetite, and stimulate and balance hormones. The special needles used for acupuncture are thin, flexible and designed to slide through body tissues without causing pain, damage or bleeding. Generally, the needles are left in for between 15 and 30 minutes per session, and the practitioner may lift or rotate the needles as part of their technique.
"It's relatively pain free, and for those who are afraid of needles it's not at all the same as giving blood or having blood taken," says Dr. Kassam. "They're very fine, hair-thin needles, and actually it's a very relaxing technique."
Dr. Kassam says that for best results, patients should maintain a healthy diet and exercise plan on top of weekly acupuncture visits, and with regular visits you can quickly see results.
"With diet and exercise, results can be seen within a couple of weeks of treatment," he says. "Where it will take a minimum of three weeks if using acupuncture alone."
How to find a acupuncturist
To find a reputable acupuncturist in your area, a little legwork might be in order because as of now traditional acupuncture is only regulated in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.
In other provinces, there are currently no regulations for acupuncturists, and those working under the title in these provinces might have only minor training in the field.
But things are improving. In certain provinces you can also receive acupuncture from naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, and medical doctors, who have received training through their governing bodies. And recently, Ontario has recognized acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine and will very shortly (in the next 8-12 months) be in the same place as B.C., Alberta, and Quebec.
Dr. Kassam recommends doing some research into the educational background of anyone you consider seeking treatment from, making sure that they have graduated from a reputable school.
"It's well worth their while to search that out," says Dr. Kassam. "It's buyer beware."
For more information check out:
• Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute
• The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine:
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