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Acupuncture for Weight Loss

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Updated June 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Accupunture needles being placed into lady's back.
Mike Harrington/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Some proponents of acupuncture suggest that the needle-based alternative therapy can help promote weight loss. Long practiced in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is thought to stimulate the body's flow of vital energy (or "chi") and, in turn, improve several factors known to contribute to weight problems and obesity.

How Does Acupuncture Promote Weight Loss?

Although scientists aren't sure how acupuncture might promote weight loss, it's thought that undergoing acupuncture may suppress appetite, boost metabolism, and reduce stress. However, these theories have yet to be extensively tested in scientific studies.

Research on Acupuncture for Weight Loss

Although there is relatively little scientific support for the theory that acupuncture can promote weight loss, some studies suggest that acupuncture may be of some benefit to people looking to lose weight. In a research review published in 2009, for instance, scientists analyzed 31 studies (with a total of 3,013 participants) and found that acupuncture was associated with a significant reduction of average body weight and improvement in obesity. However, the review's authors caution that many of the reviewed studies were of poor quality.

Other research on acupuncture's effects on weight loss has yielded mixed results. For instance, a 1999 study of 40 obese people found that 12 weekly acupuncture sessions led to significant improvement in anxiety and depression but failed to promote weight loss. In study published the previous year, however, frequent acupuncture (administered twice daily for four weeks) was found to suppress appetite and promote weight loss among overweight participants.

Should You Use Acupuncture for Weight Loss?

Due to the lack of scientific support, acupuncture cannot currently be recommended as a main strategy for weight loss. If you're looking to lose weight, talk to your doctor about which weight-loss strategies are right for you. If appropriate, you may want to consider combining acupuncture with other alternative therapies and key lifestyle changes in order to promote weight loss.

Sources:

Cabýoglu MT, Ergene N, Tan U. "The treatment of obesity by acupuncture." Int J Neurosci. 2006 Feb;116(2):165-75.

Cho SH, Lee JS, Thabane L, Lee J. "Acupuncture for obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Int J Obes (Lond). 2009 33(2):183-96.

Mazzoni R, Mannucci E, Rizzello SM, Ricca V, Rotella CM. "Failure of acupuncture in the treatment of obesity: a pilot study." Eat Weight Disord. 1999 4(4):198-202.

Richards D, Marley J. "Stimulation of auricular acupuncture points in weight loss." Aust Fam Physician. 1998 27 Suppl 2:S73-7.

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