Acupuncture for weight loss - the forgotten weight loss solution?

Dr Nick Fuller
Leading Obesity Expert at the University of Sydney and founder of Interval Weight Loss.

Among the many approaches towards aiding in the fight against obesity, one that has been getting more attention lately is acupuncture. Many are familiar with acupuncture, the traditional Chinese medicine method that revolves around using thin needles that penetrate the skin at different areas to stimulate one of the many pressure points.
While acupuncture is already widely used for its ability to reduce sensations of pain, relieve tension, and even ease stress, its proponents also say that it can help with other health issues such as weight loss.
Here, we’re going to look more closely at what the proponents of acupuncture have to say about how it may help you lose weight and what the few studies that are done so far have to say about its benefits for health and wellness.

Can Acupuncture Really Help You Lose Weight?

At the moment, there are few studies into the efficacy of acupuncture as a weight-loss treatment. A 2009 review and meta-analysis of 31 different studies published in the International Journal of Obesity found that the methodology in many of the studies was relatively poor, meaning that the reliability of the results of those studies could be hard to prove.
However, consistently, these studies found that, in comparison to lifestyle changes, acupuncture did have an association with a significant reduction of body weight, with an average reduction of around 1.72kg, as well as a reduced risk of obesity. In many of these studies, patients who underwent acupuncture treatments lost 1.52 kilograms more than those on placebo or sham treatments. However, it is essential to note that this small amount of weight loss is not clinically relevant.

How Exactly Does Acupuncture Work For Weight Loss?

The mechanism of how acupuncture can help people lose weight is not one that modern science has been able to pinpoint. However, proponents say that acupuncture may stimulate and redirect the flow of the body’s energy, also known as chi. Chi can be redirected to aid body parts such as the liver, spleen, kidney, thyroid gland, and endocrine system. In exchange, this can potentially improve an individual’s metabolism, help reduce their appetite, and even lower stress, which can impact weight levels.
A 2012 study, published by Scientific World Journal, looked at specific and measurable markers associated with weight gain and obesity. Aside from direct weight measures, like body mass index, body fat percentage, and waist circumference, it also looked at total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. It showed a reduction in cholesterol and triglyceride levels compared to no acupuncture.

How Much Weight Can You Lose With Acupuncture?

There is no way to definitively tell how much weight an individual can lose with acupuncture, even if there is evidence to suggest that weight loss will happen. The systematic review and meta-analysis of studies from 2009, linked to above, showed that, on average, people who underwent acupuncture treatments lost between 1.66kg and 2.13kg more than the test controls.
The 2012 study (also linked above) showed that people who underwent acupuncture lost an average of 4.2kg, while those who did not lost 2.4kg. This study went on for 12 weeks, showing a difference of an extra 1.8 kilograms lost (on average) by those who received acupuncture treatment.

Where Are The Acupuncture Points For Weight Loss?

Given that acupuncture works by targeting specific points to different effects, it’s only natural to be curious about which parts of the body are supposed to help you lose weight. The complex nature of how pressure points can affect body parts that may not necessarily be close to those points can make it difficult to understand how they can benefit you.
However, here are what some of the practitioners and proponents of acupuncture say are the appropriate pressure points for aiding in weight loss. It’s worth noting that acupuncture points are named for the part of the body they affect and are numbered since more than one point might affect that body part:

Depending on which acupuncturist you work with, these points may have different names, as they are often referred to by their Chinese names, too.

Do You Need To Be On A Diet To See Weight-Loss Benefits With Acupuncture?

As with all weight-loss methods, acupuncture works best when it is done in conjunction with other measures, such as a weight loss program. The studies mentioned above all noted weight loss in both those who had undergone acupuncture treatments and the control group. This is because both groups were actively making lifestyle changes to aid their weight loss.
What’s more, acupuncture can help manage things like stress and appetite, meaning that it can actively make it easier to be on a diet and help make the other lifestyle changes that aid with your weight loss.
If you’re thinking about undergoing acupuncture for weight loss, then you should combine it with appropriate lifestyle changes that last.

Are There Any Side Effects Of Acupuncture For Weight Loss?

Care must always be taken to ensure that you see an experienced, trained, and well-reputed practitioner when you go for an acupuncture treatment. Acupuncturists should show you that they are both trained and licensed to practice where you live.
The primary risk during any acupuncture treatment is dirty needles, which any reliable practitioner should avoid easily. Otherwise, side effects can include infections, punctured organs, collapsed lungs, or injury of the central nervous system.
There may also be some light side effects, such as pain, bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin.

Acupuncture Weight Loss: How Many Sessions Are Needed For Weight-Loss Benefits?

Much like going to the gym or eating healthily, you’re not likely to see any impacts from going for an acupuncture treatment just once. The studies above had several trials, with the shortest lasting six weeks and the longest lasting up to twelve weeks. This could represent how long you should go to see an acupuncturist if you want to address weight gain and ensure that you get the results you’re after.

How Much Does An Acupuncture Session For Weight Loss Cost?

To ensure the best results (and to avoid the nasty side effects of amateur treatments as mentioned above), you should make sure that you’re willing to pay for the assistance of a licensed and trained acupuncturist.
That said, the cost of acupuncture may change from practitioner to practitioner and location to location. The Healthline article on acupuncture for weight loss states that, according to a company that helps clients find acupuncturists, the average cost per session in San Franciso, California is $85, while it’s $60-85 in Austin, Texas. Usually, the higher demand for an acupuncturist and the higher the cost of living in your area, the more it will cost for each session.

About Dr Nick Fuller

Dr Nick Fuller is the founder of Interval Weight Loss and is a leading obesity expert at the University of Sydney with a Ph.D. in Obesity Treatment. Dr Fuller is also the author of three best-selling books and his work been published in top ranked journals in the medical field, including JAMA, Lancet and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.