Acupuncture for Weight Loss

Acupuncture—a needle-based alternative therapy—has been used to help promote weight loss. Practiced in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the body’s flow of energy (“chi”), and research suggests that it may improve several factors known to contribute to weight gain and obesity.

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How It Works

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice of placing thin, flexible needles into the body at specific points. Used for more than 2,500 years, this therapeutic modality has become more popular in North America in recent years and is now recognized as a safe and effective treatment for a myriad of health concerns, including aiding in weight loss. 

Traditionally, acupuncture has been thought to regulate the flow of qi/chi (energy) in the body, and help bring the body back into balance. It has been used to help manage a range of conditions, such as migraines, infertility, pain management, and weight loss.

At your first appointment, your acupuncturist will take a general health history and identify your weight loss goals. They will help identify the root of the problem (e.g., slow metabolism, thyroid issues, binge eating) to determine the most effective treatment plan for you. 

Acupuncture Procedure in Weight Loss

The needles used for acupuncture are thin, designed to work effectively without causing pain or bleeding. Generally, the needles are left in for 15 to 30 minutes per session. The practitioner may lift or rotate the needles as part of the technique during your session. Many people report that acupuncture treatments are relaxing and relatively pain-free.  

For weight loss, acupuncturists tend to focus on the ear. Key research suggests that stimulating certain points on the outer ear will help balance hormones that help reduce cravings and appetite. 

Acupuncture can influence two hormones that aid in weight loss:

  • Ghrelin: controls appetite and meal stimulation
  • Leptin: regulates fat storage and metabolism

By stimulating these two hormones, acupuncture can curb your cravings and appetite, improve digestion, and boost your metabolism.

What Research Shows

Recent research shows that acupuncture may help with weight loss.

  • One study compared the effectiveness of auricular (ear) acupuncture to body acupuncture in obese women and found that those who received auricular acupuncture lost more weight—approximately 8 pounds more—than those who received acupuncture on other parts of the body. 
  • Another study provided evidence that overweight females between 20 and 30 years old who received six weekly treatments of auricular acupuncture experienced a reduction in waist circumference. 
  • Many people gain weight as a result of being under stress. Research shows that acupuncture needles stimulate the release of endorphins—the body’s natural “feel good” hormones. This can create calming, relaxing effects that counteract the need for stress eating caused by tension, frustration, and anxiety. 

When paired with lifestyle modifications, such as regular exercise and eating a balanced diet, a 2018 review of studies concluded that acupuncture is effective for weight loss.

How to Stay Safe

To find a reputable acupuncturist in your area, a little legwork might be in order, as licensure and regulation vary from state to state. Do some research into the background of anyone you are seeking treatment from—check their training and credentials.

In some states, you can receive acupuncture from chiropractors, naturopathic healthcare providers, massage therapists, and medical healthcare providers who have received training through their governing bodies. Most states require that acupuncturists pass an exam conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

The risks of acupuncture are low if provided by a certified, competent practitioner who uses sterile needles.

The most common side effects of acupuncture include: 

  • Soreness
  • Minor bleeding where the needles were inserted 
  • Fatigue 

Before your first acupuncture treatment, tell your healthcare provider you’re considering this complementary therapy. They may recommend a reputable practitioner if acupuncture is right for you. Competent acupuncturists should be willing to work with your other healthcare providers, including your primary care provider.

A Word From Verywell

Though the research shows promising evidence that acupuncture may help aid in weight loss, don’t expect it to be the magic bullet. For best results, you need to focus on optimal health by maintaining a healthy diet, utilizing stress reduction techniques, and keeping up a regular exercise program in addition to your acupuncture treatments. Choosing a trained and licensed practitioner is important for safety and best results. 

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Pacific College of Health and Science. Acupuncture can help with weight loss.

  3. Wang LH, Huang W, Wei D, et al. Mechanisms of acupuncture therapy for simple obesity: An evidence-based beview of clinical and animal studies on simple obesity. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019;2019:5796381. doi:10.1155/2019/5796381

  4. Yasemin C, Turan S, Kosan Z. The effects of auricular and body acupuncture in Turkish obese female patients: A randomized controlled trial Indicated both methods lost body weight but auricular acupuncture was better than body acupuncture. Acupunct Electrother Res. 2017;42(1):1-10 doi:10.3727/036012917x14908026364990

  5.  Lillingston F, Fields P, Waechter R. Auricular acupuncture associated with reduced waist circumference in overweight women—a randomized controlled trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019;2019:6471560. doi:10.1155/2019/6471560

  6. Ismail LA, Ibrahim AA, Abdel-Latif GA, et al. Effect of acupuncture on body weight reduction and inflammatory mediators in Egyptian obese patients. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2015;3(1):85-90. doi:10.3889/oamjms.2015.010

  7. Kim SY, Shin IS, Park YJ. Effect of acupuncture and intervention types on weight loss: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2018;19(11):1585-1596. doi:10.1111/obr.12747