How to Quit Smoking with Complimentary Approaches

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
July 28, 2017

Evidence is scarce but adjuncts to pharmacotherapy are growing in popularity. Here’s how to quit smoking with natural ways like acupuncture and hypnosis.

Many successful smoking quitters have sworn by alternative aids such as hypnosis, meditation, and acupuncture.

The success of alternative approaches can be difficult to quantify in a clinical setting. So far the results have been mixed or inconclusive.


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"People shouldn’t think that alternative modalities will help alone; they should be combined with other treatment," says Amit Sood, MD, director of research for the Mayo Clinics complementary and integrative medicine program. "Smoking is a serious problem and should be treated like a real chronic disease."


How to quit smoking with natural ways

Alternative and complimentary therapies can probably help mostly with those mental prompts that aren’t addressed by pharmacological approaches, such as gum, patches, and lozenges.

Hypnosis for quitting smoking is a popular choice for it’s ability to change behavior quickly. "Hypnosis is nothing more than the alpha state — a state of mind that we pass through as we fall asleep at night, go deep into a memory, or as we watch television," says Alan B. Densky, a certified hypnotherapist based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who specializes in smoking cessation.

Hynosis relaxes your mind enough to recognize unconscious triggers. Reviews of clinical trials have found evidence of its effectiveness to be insufficient, but the results of a small study found that smokers hospitalized with cardiopulmonary diseases who chose to participate in a hypnotherapy session were more likely to be nonsmokers six months later than those who chose nicotine replacement therapy.

Using acupuncture to quit smoking, likewise, has mixed research attached to it. This is a technique borrowed from traditional Chinese medicine that uses tiny needles in certain points of the body. For smokers, the needles are often inserted into the ears or the top of the head.

A small study that used acupuncture and education found that acupuncture reduced smoking by four times compared to acupuncture alone. A federal meta-analysis of studies, however, concluded that acupuncture was no more effective than placebo.

A Cochrane Review didn’t find consistent evidence that acupuncture increased the number of people who could successfully quit smoking. It added, however, that some techniques “may be better than doing nothing,” at least short term, and there isn’t enough evidence to “dismiss the possibility that they might have an effect greater than placebo.”


Mindful meditation to quit smoking

Mindful meditation may also be effective for some smokers.
However, Rand researchers conducted a systematic review of meditation studies and found the evidence base too small to draw any strong conclusions.

Still, a pilot study of longtime smokers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found more than half — 56 percent — stopped smoking after eight group sessions teaching meditation and daily practice with a CD. The more participants meditated per day, the better they did.

Many of the alternative or complimentary methods used for smoking cessation have been met with skepticism. But there’s usually at least some evidence that they can work with some people in some cases.


Other natural ways to quit smoking

There are other recommended unconventional approaches. Eating foods like fruits and vegetables before you light up might discourage smoking because the smoking is less satisfying than when paired with red meat, alcohol, and coffee.

Smokers also may actually be craving something else, says one expert. "Perhaps as much as 30 percent of a smoker's cravings are actually for carbohydrates rather than nicotine," says Jonathan Foulds, PhD, professor of public health sciences and psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine.

Other evidence suggests that quitting as part of a group helps lower the cravings. Researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Public Health found the group quit rate at six months was 41 percent, 12 points higher that people who met one-on-one.

As simple as it sounds even just talking to your doctor about smoking increases the chances that you’ll quit. A review of 31,000 smokers in the UK found that even brief doctor patient conversations upped the odds of quitting by 3 percent. How you talk to yourself even matters.

"Stop, quit, give up — so much of the language of quitting is negative," says Janet Konefal, PhD, assistant dean of complementary and integrative medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "We tell people to talk positively to themselves when they're ruminating about a cigarette. Something simple like 'I can do this' can be remarkably powerful."


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April 01, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN