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Health

Desperate to lose weight, people have ears stapled

By IVAN PENN
Published November 6, 2006


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Marie Fallaw says she lost 83 pounds in six months simply by "stapling" her ears.

The Mississippi entrepreneur, owner of Staple Lean LLC, has scheduled a return trip to Florida Friday for ear stapling sessions with dozens of weight loss hopefuls.

The problem: Ear stapling for weight loss is illegal in Florida. The state Board of Acupuncture banned the practice because of the threat of infections and other health problems.

Despite the prohibition, ear stapling practitioners from across the country target Florida. They promise miracle weight loss by stapling an acupuncture point on the ear.

Numerous companies, including Fallaw's Staple Lean, have been soliciting clients around the state, including some in the Tampa Bay area.

Staple Me Thin LLC, based in Mississippi, incorporated a Florida branch Oct. 25. Another Mississippi company, Staple Image LLC, incorporated its Florida operation in June.

"This is a big, growing problem in our state. It's ridiculous that people are doing it," said Amy Sear, president of the Florida State Oriental Medical Association, a nonprofit organization of licensed acupuncturists. Sear warned the state acupuncture board this summer that her organization was witnessing an increase in ear stapling activity.

The board responded by sending letters to the Department of Health's unlicensed-activity section to inform them about the problem.

Acupuncturists in Florida must be licensed with the state and can be fined up to $1,000 for practicing ear stapling. Unlicensed practitioners engaging in ear stapling could be charged with a third-degree felony.

"We've been complaining to the board, the Department of Health: What are your unlicensed-enforcement people doing?" said Richard Freiberg, an acupuncture physician and director of the for-profit Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine National Coalition Corp., based in Lighthouse Point.

The stapling method is based on acupuncture techniques that target the ear, a practice called auricular therapy. Unlike traditional acupuncture techniques that use needles during a 45-minute session, the surgical staples stay in the cartilage of the ear for days, weeks or months.

Certified acupuncturists note that the ear has pressure points that affect every area of the body; treating the right location can have a positive health benefit.

One pressure point relates to the stomach and appetite. Stimulated properly, acupuncturists say it reduces hunger and increases thirst for water, which is necessary for burning fat.

But they dismiss advertised claims of a "miracle" staple and say that "stapling" a pressure point in the ear alone will not lead to weight loss.

Combined with diet and exercise, they say acupuncture treatments on the ear can help in weight loss, as well as smoking cessation and other health issues.

"Acupuncture doesn't make the pounds fall off," Sear said.

Moreover, stapling the ear can negatively affect the pressure point, she said. "Once a point is stimulated consistently, if anything, you shut it down."

Dr. Michael Martinez, president of the Conway, Ark.,-based Professional Ear Stapling Association, disagrees.

A licensed chiropractor, nutritionist and acupuncturist, Martinez agreed that stapling alone will not work but said it is a helpful aid.

Martinez said that negative publicity about stapling - highlighted by widespread problems with infection in Mississippi this year - led many acupuncturists to avoid stapling.

"It's just distancing themselves," Martinez said.

Fallaw, 29, said the staples alone were effective for her. She said the problems that have been associated with the technique were related to issues in Mississippi, where underground operations thrived. She said people were stapling ears in parking garages, bathrooms, coin laundries and the back seats of cars.

Fallaw said that she has stapled ears of some 3,000 clients and that her business has grown to about 2,400 new ears a month. She charges $75 for both ears.

"The other states in the South have grown tremendously," Fallaw said. "In Florida, it is very much starting to pick up."

She said she had 10 to 12 hours of "hands-on training" before she became a practitioner.

Sear, who had 2,700 hours of training to become an acupuncture physician, says Florida needs to get a handle on ear stapling before it grows out of control. "The message about stapling is, they shouldn't do it," Sear said. "A licensed person shouldn't be doing it and an unlicensed person shouldn't be doing it."

Ivan Penn covers consumer affairs issues and can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or 727 892-2332.

[Last modified November 6, 2006, 05:33:15]


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