7 Effective Ways Acupuncture Can Help in Weight Loss

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Dr Kacy Borba Spann

Acupuncture is an ancient traditional medicine that involves inserting thin, filiform or solid needles into specific points on the body. In much of the world, it is known as Traditional Chinese Medicine or TMC; however, there are many types of acupuncture that come from Asia. Acupuncture can be used for weight loss to regulate the neuroendocrine system, which has a measurable effect on Body Mass Index (BMI). While acupuncture can treat a myriad of health conditions, for weight loss, acupuncture along with a healthy diet and lifestyle shows a measurable effect over health and lifestyle alone.

Acupuncture needles are typically inserted into the skin about 1/4 of an inch deep, up to 1/2 an inch, depending on the style of acupuncture and the desired effects to improve the flow of Qi (energy) through the body. Along with emerging research, there are thousands of years of anecdotal evidence to support the use and practice of acupuncture for weight loss. [1]

How Does Acupuncture Help in Weight Loss?

Acupuncture can help with weight loss by regulating neuroendocrine function, improving the metabolism, optimizing digestion, reducing inflammation, suppressing the appetite, lessening water retention and optimizing other bodily functions that are related to obesity and weight loss.

Reduces Appetite

Leptin and ghrelin are the hunger hormones in the body; ghrelin tells the body that it is hungry, while leptin tells the body that it is full. Acupuncture can modulate the levels of these hormones to reduce appetite and curb overeating and snacking habits. [2] [3]

Improves Digestion

Using points along with the stomach and kidney channel systems, it is possible to improve the function of the digestive system, which can increase the number of nutrients absorbed by the body. By improving digestion and gut health, one can address symptoms such as constipation and bloating, as well as other gastrointestinal issues that lead to weight gain.

Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation in the gut, muscles and other tissues of the body can slow down the metabolism which can strain the immune, cardiovascular, and digestive systems. By modulating inflammation and regulating the immune response of the body, acupuncture for weight loss can reduce oxidative stress and optimize weight loss. [4]

A measuring tape beneath three needles with a white background

Acupuncture for weight loss Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Reduces Fluid Retention

By stimulating the endocrine system, acupuncture is able to help reduce fluid retention in the body. [5]

Hormone Production

When hormone levels are out of balance, many body systems can be negatively impacted, from digestion and cognition to healing and immune function. Acupuncture, along with Chinese herbs, is highly effective in balancing hormone levels, particularly for perimenopausal women who have experienced abdominal weight gain. [6]

Boosts Metabolism

Acupuncture is able to stimulate the thyroid and pituitary glands, which are key players in relation to metabolism. By stimulating these endocrine glands, acupuncture can increase baseline metabolism to improve fat-burning, making exercise and daily activities more effective, resulting in more calories burned and potential weight loss. [7]

Improves Mood

Acupuncture is able to induce the release of endorphins in the body, which are feel-good hormones that can reduce stress and anxiety. Many people overeat when they have high levels of stress hormones or are feeling overwhelmed. Acupuncture can help to eliminate those urges. [8]

Benefits of Acupuncture for Weight Loss

One of the best reasons to use acupuncture for weight loss is that it is able to provide long-lasting relief without the need for crash diets, invasive surgery, dietary medications, or excessive exercise. It requires a small amount of energy, a moderate amount of time, and a willingness to trust in traditional medicine. Acupuncture helps to align the body with your weight-loss goals, namely through its effects on metabolism, inflammation, and hormones, but it doesn’t replace the need to eat properly and exercise regularly. [9]

Sensitive Points for Acupuncture

When it comes to acupuncture for weight loss, there are a number of key areas on the body that should be focused on. The areas related to digestion and food intake are particularly important, such as the spleen, stomach, and kidney channel systems as well as auricular (ear) points related to the mouth and thus appetite. Acupuncture aimed at stimulating the neuroendocrine system to ensure proper Qi flow in the body can help improve appetite and metabolic rate.

Auricular Therapy

In recent years, a number of studies have revealed auricular therapy (acupuncture performed on the ears) for weight loss as most effective. The ear is considered a homunculus, or tiny map of the body, and has been used since the Stone Age across the globe to address a myriad of health concerns.

For weight loss, there are two main approaches – a single needle for appetite control or a five-needle technique for more comprehensive effects on the body.

  • 1-Needle Therapy – The simpler of the two popular ear therapies, this single-needle therapy is intended to quell your hunger. By applying a needle at the area that controls hunger and appetite, aka the “mouth” point you can help to reduce cravings, which can help eliminate between-meal snacking and aid weight loss. This single area is near the bottom of the tragus, the hard cartilaginous area of our inner ear that is closest to our facial skin.
  • 5-Needle Therapy – This approach is more comprehensive than the single needle for hunger. This approach treats your ear like a microcosm of the entire body and requires the insertion of needles at key nerves on the ear that affect hunger, endocrine function, the spleen, stomach, and shenmen (reduces stress and boosts energy).

Required Diet

As with any weight-loss strategy, a single change in lifestyle or behavior is not likely to deliver desired results. Even though acupuncture can effectively alter your metabolic rate, immune function,  and hormone levels related to weight loss, it is recommended that one should complement such treatment with proper diet and regular exercise. A few acupuncture sessions each week doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want, nor does it mean that you should stop going to the gym or being physically active 4-5 times per week.

The best diet for weight loss consists of eating simple whole foods, that are easy to digest, nutrient dense, and not overly processed or high in sugar. Ideally, one would eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains, while reducing the number of dairy products, refined sugar, saturated fat, and soy-based foods. [10]

Side Effects of Using Acupuncture for Weight Loss

Despite the many benefits of using acupuncture for weight loss, there are some potential side effects to using this ancient treatment, including fatigue, soreness, a worsening of symptoms, hormonal fluctuations and muscle spasms, among others.

  • Soreness – At the most fundamental level, acupuncture does involve the insertion of needles, which can create an element of pain. This soreness can last for a few hours up to a few days, depending on the area of the body, skill of the practitioner, and health history of the individual receiving treatment. [11]
  • Fatigue – Changing your bodily processes, altering hormone levels and manipulating the metabolism can be exhausting for the body, particularly in the first few treatments. In general, acupuncture will create more energy and well-being though this may not always be the case initially.
  • Worsening Symptoms – Acupuncture can be very effective, however, when one starts to rapidly alter body chemistry, a healing crisis can occur which is an initial worsening of a condition prior to it improving. As one begins to heal an old ailment or medical concern can reappear, like peeling back the layers of an onion, one issue resolving can reveal another.
  • Emotional Release – The detoxifying and stimulating nature of acupuncture can help release tension in the body, which can increase emotional sensitivity, irritability, and weepiness, among other emotional responses. An old adage in medicine: “The issue is in the tissue,” illustrates this meaning, as tissues heal emotions are released. Emotional issues are often the initial cause of tissue dysregulation and dis-ease.
  • Muscle Spasms – It is possible that acupuncture can induce muscle tremors or spasms. Typically these resolve within a day or two. If they don’t speak with your acupuncturist about what you’re experiencing.

Acupuncture is a traditional medicine found around the world, ultimately the skill of your practitioner and the therapeutic relationship formed will determine treatment outcomes.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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