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  • Julie Johns, L.Ac.

Weight Loss & Acupuncture: Is It Effective or Is It a Placebo?

It’s the start of a new year and many of us are setting goals and thinking about new habits, including, for some, the desire to shed a few unwanted pounds. As an acupuncturist, I am asked if acupuncture can help with weight loss. Well, the answer is yes, but with a caveat. Acupuncture for weight loss is not a miracle cure that allows one to effortlessly shed unwanted weight. If it were, I’d be rich. In fact, most of the hard work comes from you. Acupuncture provides the support and has been found effective to help your body shed unwanted pounds and inches WHILE you engage in diet and exercise modification.

Healthy Habits to Help You Lose Weight

  • Eat a reduced calorie diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially lightly sautéed green leafy veggies.

  • Shoot for about 50% of your calories to come from low glycemic index carbohydrates (vegetables, legumes, & whole grains).

  • Get about 25% of your calories from lean proteins (when possible choose grass fed meats & eggs and organic dairy products).

  • Allow 25-35% of your calories to come from fats, particularly fats from fish and vegetable sources (avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, & coconut oil), avoiding hydrogenated & transfers as well as canola, corn, sunflower & safflower oils, which are low in Omega 3 fatty acids and are often genetically modified.

  • Get 45-60 minutes of DAILY exercise, including some weight training & balance work to build and maintain muscle, range of motion, & coordination. It is especially important to work your large muscle groups, i.e., your legs and glutes to slow the aging process and increase your metabolism.

  • Take time to develop healthy relationships—very few people at the end of their lives wish they had worked more at the expense of a few key relationships.

Effect of Acupuncture on Weight Loss

So, then, you may ask, “If I am doing the hard work of changing my diet, increasing my exercise, and putting energy into relationships, how does acupuncture fit in? And, is it just a placebo?” No, it is not just a placebo. Here’s what the research suggests:

Acupuncture combined with diet modification, significantly reduced body weight, waist circumference, and BMI compared to placebo or sham treatments. Additionally, acupuncture might be more effective than conventional medicine for more improved outcomes for body weight and the treatment of obesity, according to a 2009 systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture and body weight therapies.

Here is how it works:

Patients come in for a 90-minute initial consultation and acupuncture treatment to see how they respond to acupuncture. On subsequent visits, we use a 5-point combination of auricular acupuncture points (points on the ear). Patients receive 8 weekly treatments, lasting about 30 minutes each and leave with 5 ear tacks (tiny acupuncture needles attached with tape), which they wear for about 5 days. At about week 4 we’ll do another 60 minute acupuncture treatment to address the whole body.

According to Yeo, Kim, Lim (2013), this 5 point auricular combination caused the most significant reduction in weight loss, waist circumference, BMI (>6%), and percent of body fat compared to a sham acupuncture group and a group which received only 1 point for hunger. These are measurable differences, not merely a placebo. Acupuncture boosted fat loss (objectively measured) and helped regulate hunger and stress associated with changing habits (subjective).

If you have a plan of action for weight loss—whether a specific program or gradually tweeking diet and exercise—and would like to boost it with acupuncture, give us a call.


Cho, S-H, J-S Lee, L. Thabane, and J. Lee. "Acupuncture for obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis." International Journal of Obesity 33.2 (2009): 183-96. Web.

Yeo, S., K. S. Kim, and S. Lim. "Randomized clinical trial of five ear points for the treatment of overweight people." Acupuncture in Medicine (2013)

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