Skip to content

Treating Eating Disorders with Acupuncture

Excerpted from an article by Michelle Fletcher, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine

photo of an acupuncture session Prevalent in most eating disorder cases, depression and anxiety may be treated by acupuncture. In a study performed by Guo Ke Ren, 30 cases of anorexia were treated with acupuncture to specific meridians for 30 minutes; after treatments, 25 cases were resolved and 5 responded with improvement, with an effectiveness rate of 100%. According to a UK study, "Significant improvements before and after treatment were found in their levels of depression. Many factors, as well as the acupuncture, may have contributed to these improvements."

A Chinese study has also found positive results in integrating Chinese Medicine into treatments for depression. Subjects have reported "significant improvements in their physical health, mental health, sense of control and social support," after several acupuncture and body-mind treatments. Chinese Medicine and acupuncture may offer healthy and effective alternatives to treatment for those suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and accompanying feelings of depression and anxiety.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture have been used for thousands of years in China and beyond. The ancient Chinese believed that there is a universal life energy called qi or chi, which is present in every living being and flows along body pathways called meridians. If the flow of this energy is blocked in any way, illness occurs. Acupuncture works to restore normal functions by stimulating certain points on the meridians in order to free up the qi energy.

Eating disorders have many causes, and thus must be treated with a culmination of strategies. Similarly, Traditional Chinese Medicine approaches the root of eating disorders from different causes and stimulants:

  • Deficiency of Heart and Spleen — Anorexia may cause a deficiency to these two areas, resulting in an increased heartbeat, memory problems, lethargy, and an ashen complexion. Herbologists may prescribe a formula to help reinforce the heart and spleen, nourishing the blood and calming the mind. Using points mainly from the palm and spleen meridians of the hands and feet, acupuncture may also help reinforce the heart and spleen.
  • Flaring up of Liver Fire — Feelings of restlessness, dizziness, shortness of temper, insomnia, and rapid pulse often accompany anorexia or bulimia. Herbal tinctures help eliminate liver fire, moisten yin, and sedate hyperactive yang. Acupuncture treats the same problems by focusing on points from gallbladder and liver meridians of the hands and feet.
  • Liver Qi Stagnation — When lifeforce energy (qi) is stagnant in the liver, irritability, insomnia, and excessive mental activity plague the body and mind. Anorexia and bulimia are often accompanied by these symptoms. Herbal medicine may help sooth the stagnant liver qi through prescribed tinctures, in addition to applying acupuncture techniques to liver and heart meridians in the feet and hands.
  • Qi Stagnation and Heat in the Stomach — Anorexia and bulimia are often accompanied by irregular heart beat, restlessness, and feelings of fear. Herbs will be prescribed to calm the heart and mind of the patient, in addition to applying acupuncture to pericardium and heart meridians. Those suffering from eating disorders typically have much lower levels of total energy, vitamins, and essential nutrients required for healthy living. In an American study, "dietary intake of calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic acid of anoretics were significantly lower than in normal subjects. Supplementation of some of these vitamins and minerals may help reduce the symptoms of eating disorders and help promote a healthy lifestyle in victims of anorexia and bulimia.

Through herbal remedies, acupuncture, and supplementation, those suffering from eating disorders may recover from both physical and mental effects of the illness. Traditional Chinese Medicine gives victims of anorexia and bulimia alternative therapies to popular Western prescriptions that not only aid in recovery, but help strengthen overall vitality and health in the body and mind.

Individualized Treatment - We provide each patient with an individualized treatment plan, carefully factoring in the nature of the eating disorder and the age and overall health of the client. Different forms of therapy will be combined concurrently or in sequence to achieve the desired goals. Clients may or may not experience all of the different therapies that Mirasol offers based on their individual needs and treatment goals.

FREE Eating Disorder Support Group!

FREE weekly eating disorder support group for adults struggling with food issues, staffed by therapists from Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers. Thursdays from 5:30-6:45 pm at 3116 N Swan in Tucson. For more information, call 520-546-3200.

"Mirasol is light years ahead of any other program in the country."