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Is Ear Stapling Acupuncture for Weight Loss?

What can you tell me about ear stapling for weight loss? The claim is that a small surgical staple placed at a point on the ear affects your stomach and decreases appetite by sending a message to your brain that "you’re already full." I'd appreciate any information you have on this procedure.

Answer (Published 8/14/2006)

Ear stapling comes from the tradition of auricular acupuncture, the manipulation of points on the ear to affect general health and to control addictions and cravings. Auricular acupuncture has been used successfully to help cigarette smokers and heroin addicts kick their drug habits and, properly administered by a qualified acupuncturist, may help some people lose weight.

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There have been a number of small studies that support ear acupuncture as a treatment for obesity. The most recent was published in 2003 in Medical Acupuncture. It found that ear acupuncture can help when combined with a 2,000 calorie a day diet and 15 minutes a day of walking. This was a very small study of only 20 obese women, ranging in age from 22 to 42. Half of them received weekly 15-minute sessions of acupuncture at relevant points in the ear. By the time the eight-week study ended, the women receiving ear acupuncture had lost a mean of 10.3 pounds while the women who didn't get acupuncture lost a mean of 3 pounds. All of the 10 women who received the acupuncture treatments reported a decrease in appetite compared with only one woman in the control group.

Ear stapling is a nontraditional technique that uses long-term stimulation of auricular acupuncture points by placing a staple in them. If you're interested in trying it for weight loss, I can't emphasize enough the importance of seeking out a certified acupuncturist. In April 2006, Mississippi's state medical board ordered the closing of 14 weight-loss businesses that offered ear stapling. This action was taken in response to complaints from people who developed serious ear infections as a result of the procedure. The medical board ruled that ear stapling is acupuncture which, in Mississippi, can be performed only by physicians licensed to perform it. In other states, certified acupuncturists as well as physicians are allowed to practice acupuncture.

News reports from elsewhere about the negative effects of stapling are similarly alarming. In Texas, four women who had staples placed in their ears by a commercial outfit reported pain around the staple that, in some cases, hurt all the way to the jaw and made chewing painful (maybe that caused any weight loss they may have experienced.) When they went to have the staples removed, the company was gone. As of June 5, 2006, an investigation by the Texas Department of Health Services was underway.

Ear acupuncture administered by a qualified acupuncturist and combined with a reduced calorie diet and an increase in physical activity may help you lose weight. But there's much more to normalizing weight than just having a staple placed in your ear.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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