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New research is vindicating fat—it isn’t the bad guy it’s been made out to be all these years.
For a long time, Western science’s idea of fat has been couched almost entirely in terms of consumption and over-consumption. Over-consumption of calorie-rich food causes the body to store away more fat. Excess fat is bad because it clogs up our arteries, interferes with bodily functions, and causes weight gain. Recent studies have shown that not all fat is bad for us; in fact, the presence of good fats may, ironically, be the key to losing excess fat overall.
Then there are also brown and white fats. White fat is associated with obesity. Brown fat, however, is rich in blood capillaries and generates body heat. In the cold, brown fat rapidly burns up calories as well as white fat, even when the person is at rest. In 2014, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine identified a process in which white fat can be converted to brown fat in mice, linking it to instructions sent by the brain when the body is made to fast. Thus, it may be possible one day to intervene in the brain’s fat-management processes, stimulating the burning rather than storing of fat.
If diet and exercise aren’t working, your body’s fat-storing tendencies may be more deeply rooted, suggest TCM practitioners. Compared to Western medicine, TCM has a very holistic understanding of obesity. Rather than viewing obesity as a problem on its own, TCM sees it as a symptom of an underlying bodily dysfunction. According to Physician Chen Tong Mei of the Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic at Jurong Gateway, obesity is a symptom of disruptions in the body’s natural flow of energy and a sign of deeper unhealthiness. Obese people also tend to suffer from a range of other problems, mainly fatigue and digestive trouble.
In this view, the build-up of fat is linked to overall bodily disharmony arising from disruptions in the natural flows of the body’s energies, popularly understood as qi, the vital energy or life force that is fundamental to our body’s processes and wellbeing.
Physician Chen traces obesity to at least five main underlying problems or ‘body constitutions.’ Most of them stem from problems in the liver, spleen and stomach systems, leading to an accumulation of heat or dampness in the vital organs. Symptoms that come with these constitutions include fatigue, digestive problems, constant thirst, bad breath and bloating.
Proper treatment follows accurate diagnosis. “What I do is check the patient’s pulse to diagnose what type of body constitution he has,” Physician Chen describes, “and then I recommend the appropriate treatment method.” The process is fairly long term, requiring about three months of continuous treatment. But results can be achieved quickly. “A patient will usually lose 0.2–0.3cm in waist measurements after one or two sessions, and up to 0.5cm within a week,” she asserts.
NEW DISCOVERIES IN ACUPUNCTURE
Recently, fascinating evidence has emerged that links acupuncture of the ear to weight loss, specifically abdominal fat. Clinical trials in 2013 by South Korea’s Kyung Hee University show that stimulation of acupoints in the ear regulated subjects’ desire to eat and resulted in overall drops in waistline measurements.
Located on and in the ear are five acupoints—namely hunger, endocrine, spleen, stomach and the master-point, the divine gate (shenmen)—that have direct links to all the major systems associated with obesity-related body dispositions. More traditional TCM methods include cupping (baguan) and scraping (guasha), each used to treat a specific body constitution.
TCM & CHOLESTEROL
TCM herbal treatments have been shown in clinical studies to be very effective in regulating cholesterol levels in the body. Some TCM super-foods have emerged in recent years, one being red yeast rice, which is conveniently available in capsule form. It aids digestion, blood flow and supports healthy cholesterol levels. Clinical trials with red yeast rice show a reduction in blood cholesterol levels over eight weeks.
At the end of the day, the best way to manage body fat is a holistic approach. We can speculate forever about ways to trick our bodies into shedding fat. But time-tested methods, supplemented by an understanding of the body’s natural harmonies, have persisted for a reason.
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.11. Find NATURA at Eu Yan Sang retail outlets, newsstands and major bookstores in Singapore.