Acupuncture For Weight Loss: Does It Work? (And Should You Try It?)

May 4, 2017 //

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine in which thin needles are inserted into various “pressure points” to relieve pain and tension or encourage otherwise positive results. It’s key component of traditional Chinese medicine — though not without its share of controversy. While proponents swear by its multitude of benefits, skeptics claim it’s a pseudo-science — especially when it comes to claims about acupuncture aiding in weight loss.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners believe that  acupuncture can curb appetite, reduce cravings, boost metabolic function, improve digestion and balance obesity-related hormones. Medical science has not been able to pinpoint the exact mechanisms by which acupuncture can treat these issues. However, some studies have found evidence acupuncture can be helpful for some people who are trying to lose weight. Let’s explore acupuncture for weight loss further.

What Happens In An Acupuncture Session?

Traditional medicine recommends the use of acupuncture on the outer ear to treat obesity. During a weight loss treatment, acupuncturists will target four points on the ear: the stomach point, hunger point, Shen Men or “Heavenly Gate” point, and endocrine point. They will insert tiny sterilized needles at these designated points to stimulate the release of neurochemicals and hormones.

Some practitioners may cover the needles with tape so that they will remain in place for an extended period. Your practitioner may direct you to remove the needles on your own, or they might remove them during a follow-up visit.

Does Acupuncture Really Work For Weight Loss?

In 2013, researchers from Graduate College of Basic Korean Medical Science at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea studied the effects of weight loss ear acupuncture and a placebo treatment on 91 overweight people.

Study participants were either treated with the traditional five-point outer ear weight loss acupuncture, a single point acupuncture treatment or a placebo treatment. All three groups were treated for eight weeks. All participants were asked to follow a restrictive diet, that was not a weight loss diet, and they were asked to keep their usual physical activity level.

After four weeks, the researchers found that participants receiving the five-point treatment had an average reduction in weight of 6.1 percent, those treated with one-point acupuncture had an average reduction of 5.7 percent and the placebo group did not lose any weight.

After eight weeks, the participants treated with acupuncture — both five-point and one-point approaches — also had a reduction in body fat and waist circumference.

“The five-point approach caused the largest decrease in waist circumference, indicating that the method should be considered as a primary treatment to reduce central obesity, rather than the hunger acupuncture point or temporary stimulation of the five acupuncture points,” said the lead researcher, Sabina Lim.

Studies like this one are encouraging, but other research on the effectiveness of acupuncture has been inconclusive. Acupuncture can complement other proven weight loss methods like diet and exercise, but it probably should not be relied on as your only method of losing weight.

What If I Want To Try It?

If you decide to incorporate acupuncture as part of your weight loss plan, seek out a qualified and licensed practitioner. You may see L.Ac. (licensed acupuncturist) after his or her name. And some medical professionals like doctors and therapists complete a postgraduate program of study in acupuncture. Most states have a licensing process that assure the practitioner has the appropriate amount of education and experience.

A full course of treatment may take up to 10 visits with a practitioner. During your initial consultation, discuss all aspects of the treatment with your acupuncturist including how many treatments you’ll need if you need to modify you diet and other lifestyle changes.

Acupuncture has helped many dieters see success. If you’re seeking treatments to complement your weight loss program, acupuncture could be a worthwhile investment. And of course, always check with your doctor before embarking on any new weight loss treatments.