- Forget Kabbalah bracelets and coconut water, every Hollywood star knows their health routine must involve cupping
- Heated cups are placed on the skin, creating suction that supposedly improves blood flow
As she posed for the photographers on the red carpet, Hollywood star Jennifer Aniston looked every inch the A-lister.
Shiny hair, immaculate make-up, a glowing tan — not to mention revealing shorts that showed off her perfectly toned legs.
But having paid such attention to her appearance, why did Aniston choose a low-backed top that succeeded only in showing off a series of unsightly circular marks on her back?
Peculiarly, Aniston was modelling the latest celebrity must-have.
Forget Kabbalah bracelets and coconut water: every Hollywood star worth her salt knows that their health routine must include cupping.
For those round marks on Aniston’s back are a tell-tale sign of cupping, an ancient Asian therapy where heated cups are placed onto the skin, creating suction that supposedly improves blood flow.
Practitioners claim it helps everything from muscle pain to cellulite and depression.
Inevitably, it was Gwyneth Paltrow — that well-known proponent of anti-gravity yoga and elimination diets for her children — who set the trend for cupping when she attended a film premiere in 2004 with the distinctive circular welts clearly visible on her back.
Victoria Beckham was recently spotted walking through Heathrow Airport with the trademark bruises, and tennis star Andy Murray has also declared himself to be a cupping devotee, even though his girlfriend Kim Sears said it made him ‘look like a reptile’.
So — apart from leaving you looking like a well-used coaster — how does cupping actually work?
Dating back 5,000 years, the therapy is a form of acupuncture, and is based on the idea that suction from the cups draws the skin up and mobilises blood and energy around the body.
‘If someone is under stress, or they’ve suffered a physical trauma like a pulled shoulder, the energy in their body can become stagnated,’ explains Ian Stones, an acupuncturist in Farnham, Surrey, and member of the British Acupuncture Council, who has been practising cupping for six years.
‘Cupping enables the blood and energy to move again and travel to the area to begin the healing process.
‘It can also have good results if someone is coming down with a cold. The suction can help to stop the cold penetrating further into the system.’
Typically, a flame is first placed inside a glass or rubber cup, so the heat can create a partial vacuum, before the flame is removed and the cup held to the skin for about three minutes.
Although the resulting marks can look alarming, they are temporary, and this kind of cupping should not hurt in any way as the cups used are thick-rimmed and do not heat up.
Other forms of cupping — which costs around £50 per session — involve using a sort of suction kit, so no flame is needed.
The UK’s leading cupping practitioner is Dr Nish Joshi, a Harley Street holistic doctor who was held in high regard by the late Princess Diana.
His website recommends cupping ‘to aid the lymphatic flow, reduce fluid build-up, increase the blood circulation which will help give the skin a healthier appearance and reduce cellulite’.
It was Dr Joshi who was responsible for Gwyneth Paltrow’s introduction to cupping (‘Joshi is truly special. I love him,’ she has said), and other patients include Sadie Frost, Patsy Kensit and Ralph Fiennes.
The photographs of Aniston sparked speculation she may be trying for a baby, as some supporters of cupping say it can be a useful aid to fertility.
Cupping specialist Saud Hadi says: ‘There are a number of cupping points on each side of the spine which correspond to organs. The most important organ for fertility is the kidney — it’s the source of life according to Chinese medicine.
‘From the look of [Aniston], she’s had cupping in the right spots for fertility treatment. The marks are likely to extend right down to her lower back. If the patient is in good health and has a good diet — like Aniston — then cupping fertility treatment can work within about five days. It also complements IVF treatment.’
But Mr Stones is doubtful.
‘I do a lot of fertility treatment and cupping wouldn’t be my first port of call,’ he says.
‘The location of the cupping marks on Jennifer Aniston would indicate some kind of musculoskeletal injury, such as back pain.’
And he adds that while cupping is perfectly safe, he would not generally use it on pregnant women.
‘It can be a fairly strong treatment, and in pregnancy we like to keep things gentle and light.’
In China, cupping is such an integral part of mainstream medicine that it is practised at hospitals for a variety of conditions.
The country’s hugely successful Olympic swimming squad are regularly photographed with cupping marks, as it is thought to be helpful with muscular pain.
But while Gwynnie and Jennifer are clearly fans, there are plenty of people who think cupping is simply hogwash.
After the author Arabella Weir underwent a series of cupping treatments at the Joshi Clinic, she reported: ‘It feels like 20 14-year-old boys giving you love bites, but not as much fun. I had three or four sessions and I didn’t feel any different — apart from the fact that I wore a burka for two weeks afterwards to hide the unsightly marks. Why would anyone [who’s had cupping] parade around in a backless dress?’
Many medical experts are scathing, and warn that fads such as this can become dangerous if people start to use them in place of seeing their GP.
‘Cupping doesn’t make any sense at all,’ says David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London.
‘Bleeding was part of mainstream medicine in the 18th century, until they found out it was harmful rather than helpful.
‘Putting a suction cup on the body may cause the skin to constrict and there could be some increased blood flow, but the idea that this could treat any medical condition is laughable.
‘It’s utterly implausible and just another ingenious way of relieving the rich and gullible of their money.’
Unfortunately, he continues, too many people expect every ailment to be curable.
‘There are many medical conditions — back pain being one of them — that we can’t do much about, or even find out what the cause is. That’s sad, but spending thousands on something as daft as cupping won’t help.’
A review of 135 studies on cupping therapy, published last year in the journal PLOS ONE, found that cupping may be effective on conditions such as acne, facial paralysis and herpes when combined with other treatments such as acupuncture.
However, the researchers acknowledged that some of the studies in their review may have contained bias, and said more research was needed.
Acupuncturist Ian Stones says he has seen significant results from cupping, adding that the technique is almost always used as part of a larger package of acupuncture treatment, which could explain why there may not be substantial research on its effects as an isolated therapy yet.
However, Edvard Ernst, a leading professor of complementary therapy, has little time for such claims.
In his book Trick Or Treatment?
Alternative Medicine On Trial, he found that despite cupping’s long history, the only controlled trial on this treatment showed no reduction in pain.
He added that the fact the skin appears to be sucked into the cup as if ‘by magic’ means cupping is likely to generate an ‘above-average placebo response’.
Put simply, people are fooled by the seeming wizardry of the suction action into thinking that cupping must be doing something for them.
Professor Ernst says: ‘There is no good evidence that cupping helps any condition — except the dreaded condition of celebrities craving attention.’