Acupuncture for Weight Loss: Does it Work?

Acupuncture has so many health benefits you may wonder if acupuncture could help you lose weight. The short answer is yes.

This article will help you understand how acupuncture helps with weight loss and what to expect if you try it out.

woman placing acupuncture needles on someones back

Background: Obesity and Acupuncture

Obesity is a complicated chronic disease, and continued research is needed to find an effective way to manage it. As of 2020, 42% of those living in the United States are considered obese. And despite this recurring issue, there is no clear way to solve the problem.  

A sedentary lifestyle and excessive calorie intake are contributing factors, but there is more to it than just these two. Obesity may also be due in whole or in part to disruptions in the endocrine system, chronic inflammation, or imbalances in the gut microbiome. 

Dietary changes are a great place to start on your weight loss journey. Combining healthy eating with exercise can help you reap even more health benefits and movement on the scale. Now, pair this with acupuncture, and you could see even greater or more consistent results. 

Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine that originated about 3,000 years ago. It involves inserting super thin needles into various points on the body to stimulate sensory nerves and rebalance the body’s natural energy flow. 

Although acupuncture has most commonly been used for pain, it has grown in popularity, touting numerous health benefits, including weight loss. 

What the Studies Say about Acupuncture for Weight Loss 

Studies show that acupuncture can help improve metabolism, reduce inflammation, improve glucose tolerance, and regulate hunger hormones. All of which can play a role in body weight. 

Since acupuncture has few negative side effects when compared to weight loss medications and weight loss surgery, it may be a good alternative therapy for obesity. 

The following studies have shown some positive results for using acupuncture for obesity: 

  1. A review of 8 randomized controlled studies that included 403 participants concludes that acupuncture helped reduce body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference. Studies ranged from 2-8 weeks in length. 
  1. This study showed that acupuncture decreased body weight and improved insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism in obese rats. It also altered the gut bacteria, modifying it positively, which is more similar to the balance of bacteria seen in normal-weight rats.
  1. In this study, 5 weeks of acupuncture resulted in weight loss. It also showed beneficial changes in ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone), leptin, and insulin. This helps explain what changes in the body are prompting weight loss. 

Knowing that obesity is a chronic disease, we would love to see studies that are longer to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of acupuncture. More human vs animal studies would also be helpful, but from the research that is out there now, it does look promising. 

Other Benefits of Acupuncture Related to Weight Loss

Acupuncture can help relieve many ailments beyond regulating inflammation, hormones, and digestion. The following benefits of acupuncture can also indirectly help with weight loss: 

Improved Sleep. Lack of sleep leads to an increase in ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and a decrease in leptin (the fullness hormone). This drives people to eat more since they feel hungry often. Acupuncture can be very helpful for those with issues falling asleep or staying asleep. 

Stress Management. A lot of people who suffer from significant stress find themselves turning to food to help manage. This can lead to excess calorie intake, making it difficult to lose weight and keep it off. Acupuncture can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.  

Reduced Pain. Being in pain for long periods can be miserable. You’re irritable, tired, and driven to eat more food and to eat junk foods that produce high amounts of dopamine (the feel-good hormone). Acupuncture can be effective for treating some types of chronic pain.

What to Expect at an Acupuncture Appointment

If you’re a bit needle-shy, you may be hesitant to try acupuncture. This is completely understandable, considering it involves several thin needles being placed into your skin. Finding a skilled professional will be key to easing your nerves. 

The first visit to an acupuncturist typically involves much talking so the acupuncturist can get an idea of your ailments, overall health, and comfort levels. They will often look at your tongue and check your pulse as part of their assessment before each visit. 

After the assessment, they will likely move you to a treatment room. There, you will lie on a table, much like a massage table, with parts of your skin exposed (depending on where they need to place the needles). 

Very thin, flexible needles will then be inserted about ¼” deep into your skin. Depending on your treatment plan, the insertion points may change from visit to visit. 

Some experience no pain with the insertion of needles, while others may feel a very small poke or slight aching once inserted. This can vary depending on where the needles are placed, with nerve-dense extremities like fingers, toes, feet, and hands being more sensitive. 

Once all the needles are in, you can just lay there and relax. The practitioner may leave the room for about 20 minutes before coming back to check in on you and then again to remove the needles. Most people find it relaxing and may even drift off to sleep during this time. 

Some practitioners may adjust the needles after inserting them. Some may combine your treatment with vibration therapy (tuning forks) or moxibustion (burning mugwort leaves near acupuncture points). 

Once the session ends, they will remove the needles, which is typically painless. Most people leave either feeling more relaxed or feeling more energized. It’s helpful to have successive sessions, usually once or twice weekly. 

Should You Try Acupuncture for Weight Loss?

When considering whether acupuncture would be a good fit for you, you’ll want to evaluate the benefits compared to the possible downsides of getting treatment. Acupuncture may not be right for everyone.

Benefits include:

  • Improved health. There are numerous health benefits to receiving acupuncture, so even if you do it solely for weight loss, you’re bound to notice other improvements in your health. 
  • Avoiding medical interventions, including medication. Acupuncture could be the next step that helps you avoid other medical treatments with significant side effects.
  • Quick improvements with no downtime. People tend to enjoy the relaxing time they spend in acupuncture and leave already feeling a little better. Other medical treatments may require some downtime to heal and recover before feeling better. 

Drawbacks include:

  • Possible side effects. This may include pain where the needles enter the skin, bleeding or bruising at the needle site, feeling dizzy or nauseous, and possible drowsiness. 
  • More appointments to attend. Since acupuncture is best utilized weekly, you’ll have to consider how much free time you have. 
  • Financial burden. It’s possible that your insurance won’t cover acupuncture, and paying out of pocket can get expensive over time. Even if it is covered by insurance, if you have a high copay or coinsurance, it can add up quickly when attending weekly appointments. 

Acupuncture can be a helpful therapy for people trying to lose weight. Not only can it help manage hunger hormones, but it can also help improve fatigue, stress, or pain. Getting a referral and checking out bios and testimonials can help you find a skilled professional.

For other practical tips on losing weight, check out my Busy Moms Diet and Health Guide.

For more tips, join my community in the Facebook Group: Weight Loss Support for Moms with (and without) Insulin Resistance.

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