Does Chinese Medicine Work For Weight Loss?

Weight loss is big business! Millions of people go on a diet to once again fit into their skinny jeans or look svelte for a wedding or other major event. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the problem with excess weight goes way beyond trying to look good; it can lead to severe health issues and a shorter life.


When people carry extra pounds, the spine and joints can start wearing down under the strain. Pain and limitations make routine chores or activities hard to do. Overweight and obesity can lead to serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancers, and congestive heart failure.


BMI and Body Fat


You can get a quick idea if you are overweight by calculating your BMI, or Body Mass Index. This tool measures body fat by using your weight and height in a calculated formula. The results put you into a numerical category that can help assess your risk of disease. The higher your number, the more body fat you have and the higher your risk. 


BMI Categories:


Under 18.5, you are underweight

Between 18.5 to 24.9, you are normal weight

Between 25 to 29.9, you are overweight 

If you have a BMI of 30 or greater, you are obese


The BMI scoring does have its limits; for instance, since muscle weighs more than fat it can overestimate fatness in more athletic people. However, research shows that increased BMI numbers (and corresponding obesity) have been linked to increased diseases and mortality.


A more accurate way to measure body fat is with skinfold calipers. With this device, you pull out folds of skin (with the underlying fat) at various places on your body, and attach the small, hand-held caliper to the skin folds themselves for a measurement. That measurement is then calculated with a formula or compared to a chart to give you your percentage of body fat.


The charts are based on age and sex; in general, women tend to carry more body fat than men, and younger people tend to be leaner than more mature individuals. Here are the ranges for normal body fat; any percentages above these ranges indicates overweight.




Up to age 30 14-21%

30 to 50 years 15-23%

50 years and up 16-25%




Up to age 30 9-15%

30 to 50 years 11-17%

50 years and up 12-19%


Skinfold calipers can be found online and in sporting goods and supplement stores. Many gyms and some medical offices have calipers on hand to measure you as well.


The Effects of Excess Fat on Your Body


The fat in your body is a prime storage spot for environmental toxins – and the more you have, the more toxic you are. Hanging onto these chemicals in your body alters your biological processes and leads to disease. They can also cause weight gain.


There are 6 different types of fat in the body, some beneficial and some not. Visceral fat is the most dangerous as it surrounds vital organs and increases your risk for disease and cancer. A big waist or belly is a good indicator of visceral fat. Take a tape measure and pull it around your waist at the navel. A waist circumference greater than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women indicates a greater risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.


The Fat and Hormone Connection


During the last two decades scientists stumbled on an amazing discovery. Fat cells not only store excess energy from food; they also release several hormones, many of which have a big impact on your metabolism. 


White fat cells tend to store energy, though some will secrete hormones that help keep weight and insulin levels in check. Leptin is the hormone that signals to you when the stomach is full to prevent overeating. Resistin helps diabetes as it appears to reduce insulin resistance. 


Brown fat cells tend to be good at helping burn calories, thanks to its high metabolism.

The Slit2-C hormone in particular has been shown to encourage energy expenditure and glucose metabolism. 


Adding to the complexity of fat cell hormones is the fact that fat stored in different areas of the body can behave differently. Mature fat cells secrete ADAMST1, a hormone that instructs fat stem cells to prepare for energy storage; but in the case of a high fat diet, they can instruct cells to accumulate visceral fat instead. This hormone is also secreted by macrophages in injured muscle, and this discovery – along with the inflammatory hormone chemerin, can help explain why visceral fat – rather than subcutaneous fat – is linked to diabetes and other metabolic diseases.


Excess Weight and Chinese Medicine


Traditional Chinese medicine seeks to understand the root causes of weight gain. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment; instead, this approach looks to identify, then base treatment on each patient’s unique Chinese medical patterns. Weight gain usually involves more than one pattern, making treatment even more individualized.


Weak digestion is a huge contributor to weight gain. In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is the organ that transforms food and drink into qi, blood, and fluids, then moves them throughout the body. Too much sugar, cold foods, anxiety, and emotional upset can slow this function. This can cause a buildup of internal phlegm, a substance similar to inflammation in Western medical terms. As phlegm builds up it turns into fat. This is why it is easy to gain weight yet very hard to lose it.


The three patterns we typically see in patients with weight issues are:


Phlegm Damp – this pattern is the result of improper lifestyle and food choices; eating a lot of sugar or cold, raw foods, dairy products, fried foods, or junk foods produces internal damp and phlegm in the body. Eating at improper times doesn’t help. Signs and symptoms include sugar cravings, profuse phlegm, dizziness, heavy limbs, fatigue, and/or heart palpitations.


Spleen Qi Vacuity – this pattern occurs with a long history of poor dietary habits. Signs and symptoms include binge eating, fatigue, lack of strength or focus, puffy face, abdominal fullness after eating, water retention, and/or loose stools. 


As mentioned above, a poor diet can hamper the Spleen’s functions and cause a build up of phlegm. Even with good food and a healthy lifestyle you can still gain weight if you are an overthinker or chronic worrier since both actions can harm the Spleen.


Binding Depression of Liver Qi – this pattern points to an obstructed flow of qi, blood, fluids, and emotions. Anger, anxiety, and unfulfilled desires also play a part. When you are emotionally upset you suppress the regulatory function of the liver. Lack of smooth liver qi flow creates stagnation, causing phlegm.


Signs and symptoms include chest or rib-side distention and pain, irritability, burping, hiccuping, and/or menstrual irregularities. These tend to get worse with emotional upsets.


How to Lose Weight According to Chinese Medicine


First of all, be mindful of what – and how – you are eating. Stop snacking, have regular mealtimes, and reduce damp-producing foods such as dairy, sugar, and greasy fare. Swap out your cold and raw veggies for cooked ones. Add fermented foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut to your diet.


Aim to eat balanced meals. In Chinese medicine every food has a temperature (cold, cool, neutral, warm, hot) and a flavor (sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, salty). An ideal meal would include foods from all five flavors. Meals should be moderate in temperature to keep your digestion happy. Stop eating the moment you begin to feel full.


Start your morning with a hearty breakfast as this is the time your spleen is most active. Good options include hot cereals, eggs, protein shakes and limited fruit. By contrast, dinner should be your smallest meal, with brown rice, vegetables and a small serving of an animal or vegetable protein. Try not to eat your last meal too late in the day, otherwise your body will be too busy digesting it instead of using its energies for repair.


Regular exercise is vital for weight loss as it stimulates the circulation of qi and proper bowel function. Aim for movements that get your heart rate up for at least 10 minutes for at least three days per week. 


Emotional eating is a big cause of weight gain as we tend to reach out for the unhealthy comfort foods of our youth. Meditation, yoga, journaling, cleaning, exercising, or calling a friend are good alternatives to deal with anger, frustration, and depression.


Excess Weight and Organ Dysfunction


When organs are not functioning well they can contribute to weight gain. As mentioned above, when the Spleen is not working optimally then digestion is affected and internal phlegm can build up. When the liver is not running smoothly then thyroid hormones are not converted well which can slow metabolism. 


Fortunately Chinese herbs can help support organs and help weight loss. For example, they can work with the Spleen to modulate insulin (Huang Qi) and promote water metabolism (Bai Zhu). Zhi Shir and Chai Hu can help smooth liver qi by moving the bowels and phlegm. Bao He Wan is a popular herbal formula that stimulates digestion and strengthens the stomach.


Acupuncture and Weight Loss


Acupuncture is a tremendous tool for weight loss! Acupuncture points are stimulated to reduce stress, enhance metabolism, curb appetite, and improve organ function. 


There are many studies that show the effectiveness of acupuncture for weight loss. In one study, 72 people were given 16 acupuncture treatments over an eight week period. Those who received acupuncture lost 2.47kg of average weight and had a 3.2kg/m2 decrease in average BMI; those in the sham acupuncture group who had a 0.54kg loss of average weight and an 0.19kg/m2 decrease in average BMI. 


At Wellnest we practice the renowned Mei Zen weight loss protocol for weight loss. Our acupuncture points increase digestion, relieve stress, and help with emotional stressors. During this 18-session program you will also receive nutritional, dietary, and lifestyle advice to enhance your weight loss. 


Sign up for this program today to:



  • improve your digestion
  • boost overall energy
  • increase your libido
  • soothe menstrual issues
  • tighten the tummy after baby or weight loss
  • finally get rid of those last (stubborn!) 5 pounds!



Looking for a Denver acupuncture clinic to help you with all of your general health, mental health, chronic pain, fertility, gynecological, facial acupuncture, or digestive needs?

Contact Wellnest Acupuncture + Holistic Medicine at 720.618.0770 or book an appointment online.

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