7 Compelling Reasons You Should Try Acupuncture for Weight Loss

Updated: Dec. 26, 2019

When hitting the gym has done all it can, acupuncture may be worth a shot.

Acupuncture works

If losing weight is one of your goals, you may want to consider trying acupuncture (assuming you are okay with needling and going for visits aren’t out of your budget). Once considered alternative medicine, acupuncture has moved toward the mainstream: It’s now recommended by many doctors and may even be covered by insurance. The practice involves inserting fine, clean needles along specific pathways on the body to improve chi or energy flow. It doesn’t encourage weight loss in isolation, but when combined with a reduced-calorie diet and regular exercise, it could help, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. (Here are 7 other surprising conditions that acupuncture can treat.)

Stressed woman pinching the bridge of her nose with her fingers.

Reduce stress

No doubt about it, stress—and the inability to cope with it—can cause people to reach for comfort foods and abandon the things they know are good for them. So proven stress-relievers like exercise and meditation can also help with weight loss. Yet, people still tend to turn to smoking, alcohol, and binge-watching TV. Acupuncture, however, is a better alternative. “When we are under stress, we produce excess amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, and this pushes us in the direction of making unhealthy choices,” says Tim Rhudy, an acupuncturist in Delmar, New York. “Acupuncture…can help reduce stress so you might be less likely to reach for that donut.”

Woman in exercise gear jogging up stairs.

Get more energy

This traditional Chinese medicine treatment works along with Western medicine—and can help treat a host of ailments that hinder weight loss efforts. “Because of the improvement in energy flow, people might be influenced to make better choices when it comes to eating, have less joint pain and inflammation which can lead to improved performance, desire to exercise, and hormonal harmony affecting their metabolism, which can lead to weight loss,” says Sharon Zarabi, RD, director of the bariatric program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. This extra energy is also important for anyone who wants to keep the weight off, too, as it takes more energy to maintain [a heavier weight] than it does to lose weight. Here are 50 things doctors wish you knew about losing weight.

Smiling woman eating a salad with a fork.

Control appetite

Battling food cravings? After an acupuncture appointment, you might not be jonesing for a snack anymore. A small pilot study of 10 people published 2014 in the BMJ Open Gastroenterology found that people who participated in weekly acupuncture sessions for one month lost more weight than the people who didn’t do acupuncture. The researchers suggested that acupuncture might help people lose weight by suppressing the body’s levels of ghrelin, a hormone that boosts appetite.

Person checking their blood sugar with a glucose monitor.
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Balance blood sugar

If you’re concerned about maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, it’s important to be aware of unexpected factors that can spike your normal glucose levels. Research suggests a special type of acupuncture can help as well: When women who were overweight or obese and unable to exercise received electroacupuncture—acupuncture plus an electric current—they showed improvements in blood sugar levels, according to a 2017 study in The FASEB Journal. “When your blood sugar is balanced, it keeps your appetite regulated and you are not as hungry so you eat less,” explains Dana Greene, RD, a nutritionist in Boston. People with type 2 diabetes specifically need to watch their blood sugar levels.

Woman measuring her stomach with a tape measure.
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Cool inflammation

Inflammation is linked to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes—and if weight is your concern, you’ll definitely want to look for healthy foods that fight inflammation. And then consider acupuncture: A 2016 study found that the stimulation of certain nerves via acupuncture could lower inflammation throughout the body. Another study, published in the Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, found that acupuncture could tamp down inflammation and alter body composition in people who are obese. Eighty people received acupuncture treatments for three to six months while they adhered to a low-calorie diet plan. Participants used acupuncture for weight loss and showed decreases in creatinine and uric acid levels (an indicator of kidney function) and blood fats including cholesterol and triglycerides.

Woman sleeping peacefully in a bed.
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Sleep sounder

If you’re restless, take a look at your diet: Food choices can affect the quality of your sleep. Good quality sleep is known to aid weight loss efforts so, by association, anything that can improve sleep will have spillover benefits on your waistline. “When you are sleep deprived, you have more ghrelin, the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and you also have less leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating,” says Michael J. Breus, PhD, a psychologist and sleep expert in Los Angeles, and the author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan. “More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain.” Make these 9 small changes to your bedtime routine to lose weight in your sleep.

Woman with acupuncture needles in her back.

Feel better

Does acupuncture work for weight loss? More research needs to be done, but if you want to explore it for yourself, seek out a reputable, certified and licensed acupuncturist. You can expect once weekly or bi-weekly visits for at least one or more months, usually about three to six months. Search the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine‘s directory to find licensed acupuncturists. If this endorphin-boost sounds appealing, but you don’t want to break an actual sweat, check out these 50 ways to lose weight without a lick of exercise.