Acupuncture is the traditional Chinese medical practice of stimulating specific points on the body, primarily with the insertion of very thin needles through the skin.

Acupuncture has been the focus of many studies on its ability to manage pain — especially for headache and neck, back, knee, and osteoarthritis pain.

There have not, however, been as many studies on how acupuncture can help with other health issues such as weight loss.

Advocates of acupuncture for weight loss believe that acupuncture can stimulate the body’s energy flow (chi) to impact factors that can reverse obesity such as:

Weight gain, according to traditional Chinese medicine, is caused by body imbalance. That imbalance, according to ancient teachings, can be caused by a malfunctioning:

So, for weight loss, acupuncture treatments commonly target these areas of the body.

Ear acupuncture for weight loss

The ear is another area that acupuncture practitioners target for weight loss. It’s believed that food cravings can be controlled by manipulating points on the ear.

This is a similar treatment to that used by acupuncture practitioners to help smokers and drug users end their addictions.

Although different acupuncture practitioners recommend different levels and lengths of treatment, if you plan on losing 10 to 15 pounds, having several treatments a week for six to eight weeks is a common program.

The number of visits each week might taper off as the program progresses. The number of visits recommended will also vary from one acupuncture practitioner to another.

If you believe that your acupuncture treatments are beneficial, your positive attitude may help you lose weight.

For example, if you feel that acupuncture treatments are improving your quality of life, you might be motivated by that feeling to make good diet and exercise choices. And those choices can result in further weight loss.

If there’s a chance that acupuncture can help people lose weight, why aren’t there more studies proving it to be effective or ineffective?

There have been studies suggesting that acupuncture is likely effective for weight loss. But a review of those studies suggested that these results weren’t totally convincing because of problems with the way the studies had been carried out.

Sometimes the results of small studies can be combined to improve their statistical relevance. In this case, the studies featuring acupuncture often have too many variables to combine, including differences in:

  • technique
  • number of acupuncture points
  • number of sessions
  • length of sessions
  • use of placebo
  • sham intervention

Also, acupuncture study results are often heavily influenced by each participant’s personal beliefs, expectations, and relationship with the practitioner. These influences can alter the impact of the actual acupuncture treatment and skew the data for the study.

The safety and side effects of acupuncture depend on the training and experience of the practitioner and on the cleanliness of the needles.

Make sure your acupuncturist is trained and licensed in your state. Otherwise, you could suffer serious side effects including:

Acupuncture may help you lose weight, but the research is limited and the evidence is mixed. It could help you, personally, lose weight, but it’s not clear if positive effects come from a specific acupuncture treatment or from your positive attitude, which is helping you make healthier lifestyle choices.

Today, the evidence isn’t robust enough to prove that acupuncture can lead to weight loss, but if you’re considering trying it:

  • Discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
  • Combine the treatment with better food and exercise decisions.
  • Choose a trained and licensed practitioner.