Acupuncture For Weight Loss 2023: Can It Help You Lose Weight?

Giovanna Rosario

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

acupuncture for weight loss

Traditional Chinese medicine has been used for centuries. Acupuncture[1] itself is believed to have originated in China. In ancient practice, there are paths of energy (Qi) flow throughout the body that are responsible for overall health. Acupuncture works by penetrating the skin with hair-thin needles activated by the practitioner. When pressure is applied to certain points, it improves the movement of energy, and thus, health.

Acupuncture has been used[2] for many conditions, in particular, for pain relief. With this, we need to ask if acupuncture can also help you lose weight and lose fat. In addition to a healthy lifestyle, can you use acupuncture for weight loss?

Can Acupuncture Help With Weight Loss?

It is not clear how acupuncture helps with weight loss, but it may improve systems that support treating obesity. Studies[3] suggest it works in the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral fatty tissue. In the CNS, the hypothalamus is a part of the brain that modulates hormonal signals for appetite, food intake, and fat storage. 

Some ways that acupuncture treatments may aid weight loss attempts are by improving different reasons that lead to excess body weight. Most interestingly, it may have a role in regulating leptin and ghrelin, the satiety and hunger hormones, respectively. Acupuncture may help lead these hormones to work more synergistically in the body. 

Acupuncture may prevent weight gain by treating stress, improving digestion, and assisting with sleep. This may have an indirect effect to support weight goals by managing emotional eating and managing food cravings. For weight loss therapy, it may be necessary to undergo acupuncture therapy over a therapeutic period[4] of several weeks.

Acupuncture works by restoring the Qi or energy flow in your body. Traditional Chinese medical practice believes that diseases are caused by imbalances in the body’s energy flow. The acupuncture treatment can rebalance the flow of QI, restoring the function of organs. 

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)[5], acupuncture is used worldwide. It is used to treat conditions like osteoarthritis, headaches, migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. As well as relieve pain on neck, back and from cancer. Some effects can be attributed to suggestion or a placebo effect by the subject. If the person believes the therapy works, it may cause an effect on the body.  

Does that mean it’s phony? No. We are only now learning about the mind-body[6] connection and how thought itself can impact physiological processes. 

Therapy with acupuncture comprises placing super thin needles on specific pressure points in the body. Therapy usually lasts from six to eight weeks. Auricular or ear acupuncture, either manually or electrically stimulated, is the most targeted area for losing weight. Interacting with these particular points is believed to target the endocrine system. 

Does Acupuncture For Weight Loss Work?

Small studies show that acupuncture treatments compared with sham needles (placebo) can help users lose more weight. Most times, this therapy is combined with other traditional weight loss methods. When incorporating mindfulness, a healthy diet, and/or exercise with acupuncture, participants experienced more weight loss than similar weight loss methods that excluded acupuncture.

More revealing was a much larger recent[4] systematic review of 32 trials involving 3,364 patients which compared the use of a low-calorie diet, meal replacement, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exercise, and acupuncture and their respective impacts on body weight reduction. All resulted in a medium weight reduction, with acupuncture more so than the other strategies. 

The lengths of intervention were either shorter or longer than twelve weeks’ duration. CBT[7], where participants worked on modifying patterns of thinking and behavior, and exercise was most effective after twelve weeks. Meal replacement was more effective only in the shorter (<12 weeks) period. Acupuncture, however, showed weight reduction in both the shorter and longer (less than and over 12 weeks) time durations. 

Another review[8] of randomized controlled trials showed acupuncture may be an effective treatment for simple obesity. This meta-analysis found a statistical difference between the control groups and the acupuncture group with improvement in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, body fat mass percentage, and overall body weight. Better quality studies are still needed to fully determine the full effect. 

Interpreting the research has been problematic, however, studies[9] are inconsistent because of inadequate sample size and different populations. That is, besides suffering inadequate data, these studies do not have the same practices, interventions, duration, or population for valid comparisons. This makes it hard to give a consistent recommendation on the use of acupuncture for therapy to promote weight loss. 

If seeking alternative methods like Chinese medicine for managing your weight, it is important to educate yourself first. For weight loss, you must include healthy lifestyle changes, like eating healthy, exercising regularly, and proper hydration. Seeking support from licensed acupuncture practitioners might be an option to further achieve your goals. 

Pros And Cons Of Acupuncture For Weight Loss

Acupuncture is mainly used for the management of pain caused by different conditions. However, while it is increasingly being used for many other health strategies, it may not be an option for everybody. It is still a relatively safe alternative form of therapy to traditional medicine. 


  • It is a minimally invasive treatment.
  • It might be cheaper than pharmaceutical or surgical options.
  • There are usually little to no complications associated with this treatment.
  • It may have added benefits beyond weight loss, like pain management.
  • Acupuncture points may be limited to the auricular area when managing weight. The practitioner may decide which points are needed. 


  • It may not be an option covered by medical insurance.
  • It won’t be a good choice for people with a fear of needles.
  • It may be a source of infection if proper cleaning techniques are not used.
  •  Acupuncture points may be in sensible areas, like the abdomen or extremities.
  • It may evoke local side effects[10] like pain, pressure, itching, bleeding, or bruising.  
  • The data of it–alone–supporting weight loss is limited. 

How To Stay Safe?

Discuss with your healthcare provider if acupuncture would be an option[2] for you. They can also guide you to reputable practitioners in your local area. 

It is advisable to seek treatment from a trained and licensed practitioner. Proper hygienic techniques and appropriate medical equipment are necessary to prevent infection and get professional treatment. Research licensing requirements in your local area or state to guide you in choosing an acupuncture practitioner. 

Follow the recommendations and instructions from your acupuncture practitioner to prevent complications. 

Final Thought

Acupuncture appears to be a promising option for obesity treatment. Although how this therapy works in promoting weight loss is unclear, it may be another tool for some people to support their weight loss goals. It is important to remember this will not be a magic pill for losing weight. Working on managing calories consumed, improving diet quality, and regular exercise are still proven ways for weight loss, backed up by valid science. 

+ 10 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. White, A. (2004). A brief history of acupuncture. Rheumatology, [online] 43(5), pp.662–663. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/keg005.
  2. NCCIH. (2012). Acupuncture: What You Need To Know. [online] Available at:
  3. Wang, L., Yu, C.-C., Li, J., Tian, Q. and Du, Y.-J. (2021). Mechanism of Action of Acupuncture in Obesity: A Perspective From the Hypothalamus. Frontiers in Endocrinology, [online] 12. doi:10.3389/fendo.2021.632324.
  4. Kim, S.-Y., Shin, I.-S. and Park, Y.-J. (2022). Comparative effectiveness of a low-calorie diet combined with acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, meal replacements, or exercise for obesity over different intervention periods: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Frontiers in Endocrinology, [online] 13. doi:10.3389/fendo.2022.772478.
  5. NCCIH. (2012). Acupuncture: What You Need To Know. [online] Available at:
  6. Littrell, J. (2008). The Mind-Body Connection. Social Work in Health Care, [online] 46(4), pp.17–37. doi:10.1300/j010v46n04_02.
  7. Chand, S.P., Kuckel, D.P. and Huecker, M.R. (2022). Cognitive Behavior Therapy. [online] Available at:
  8. Zhong, Y.-M., Luo, X.-C., Chen, Y., Lai, D.-L., Lu, W.-T., Shang, Y.-N., Zhang, L.-L. and Zhou, H.-Y. (2020). Acupuncture versus sham acupuncture for simple obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Postgraduate Medical Journal, [online] 96(1134), pp.221–227. doi:10.1136/postgradmedj-2019-137221.
  9. Cho, S-H., Lee, J-S., Thabane, L. and Lee, J. (2009). Acupuncture for obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Obesity, [online] 33(2), pp.183–196. doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.269.
  10. Chan, M.W.C., Wu, X.Y., Wu, J.C.Y., Wong, S.Y.S. and Chung, V.C.H. (2017). Safety of Acupuncture: Overview of Systematic Reviews. Scientific Reports, [online] 7(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-03272-0.
Giovanna Rosario

Written by:

Giovanna Rosario, RD

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

She's currently working as a Registered Dietitian who enjoys promoting healthy lifestyles to be able to thrive in old age. She has worked dietitian-nutritionist in different settings helping adults manage chronic disease through dietary approaches, achieve healthful weight, and replenish nutrient deficiencies. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetic Sciences, alongside a Master’s degree in Creative Writing.

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

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