In cupping, a practitioner places a glass container with a partial vacuum in it on a patient's skin in order to produce suction on the underlying tissue. Once widespread throughout Europe and Asia, cupping is now limited for the most part to traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM. A TCM practitioner might recommend cupping as one way to aid weight loss. Cupping is not a replacement for conventional medical care.
Cupping has roots in ancient medical traditions across Europe and Asia, according to Ilkay Zihni Chirali, TCM practitioner and cupping therapist in Bexleyheath, England, author of "Cupping Therapy: Traditional Chinese Medicine." In TCM, practitioners thousands of years ago used heated cattle horns to draw pus and blood from boils. Cupping appears in ancient Egyptian manuscripts. Hippocrates and Galen, the fathers of western medicine, recommended cupping for many different types of illness. Europeans continued to use cupping and its related practice of bloodletting until the rise of modern medicine in the twentieth century. Folk medical practitioners worldwide still practice cupping.
In TCM, the liver governs the smooth flow of qi or vital life energy, while the spleen is responsible for drawing qi from food and distributing it to the rest of the body. If you are having trouble losing weight, it could mean that either of these systems isn't functioning properly and your qi has begun to stagnate, giving rise to a condition called "dampness," according to Joerg Kastner, head of acupuncture at the Academy for Continuing Medical Education in Westfalen-Lippe, Germany, and author of "Chinese Nutrition Therapy." Cupping can help remove deep level damp stagnation and allow your qi to circulate freely once more.
After briefly inserting a flame into a special glass cup in order to remove some of the oxygen, a practitioner will place the mouth of the cup on your skin, usually on your back. Some cups have a rubber bulb attached to them to remove air by suction. The cup, which now contains a vacuum, draws in skin and muscle tissue, often raising a red or black welt. Essentially, cupping creates an area of stagnation on the back, triggering a reaction in the body's qi that gets things moving again, according to Alon Marcus, doctor of Oriental medicine practicing in Oakland, California, and author of "Foundations for Integrative Musculoskeletal Medicine: An East-West Approach."
Types of Cupping
If it's your first cupping treatment, your practitioner might use a weak vacuum for a brief period of time in order to get your qi moving. The goal is to move blood and qi and remove any stagnation that might be causing your weight gain, Chirali notes — not to punish you or jolt your system. Stronger methods of cupping to remove stagnant qi include moving the cups around once they are attached to your skin, and bleeding, in which the practitioner applies the cup to raise a welt, opens the welt with a lancet and then reapplies the cup to draw blood.
The ultimate goal of cupping is not to produce fluid at the surface of the skin, but to remove deep-set blockages, according to Marcus and Kuchera. Although cupping can help you get started on your weight loss goals, your TCM practitioner will most likely recommend other therapies as well, including a diet plan, exercises, acupuncture or massage. Kastner advises eating regular meals, emphasizing lower fat foods and avoiding dairy in order to help clear dampness.