Let’s be real: Some people will try pretty much anything when it comes to weight loss. From classic methods like cutting calories and increasing exercise to less conventional practices like cyrotherapy and hypnotism, there are endless weight-loss techniques (okay, lots of them are fads!) out there. Another one that folks who are into alternative methods talk about *a lot*? Acupuncture for weight loss.
Fans and practitioners of acupuncture claim the practice can help alleviate stress, physical pain, allergies, and even PMS—but can it really aid weight loss, too? Keep reading to find out whether or not acupuncture can help you shed pounds, according to experts.
Can acupuncture really help you lose weight?
Here’s what we know: There’s not much evidence that plain old acupuncture will directly help you lose weight. “Acupuncture isn’t magic,” says Daniel Hsu, licensed acupuncturist and founder of New York AcuHealth Acupuncture practice. “It doesn’t make fat melt off of your body.”
That being said, acupuncture may help reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness, which may indirectly help a person more effectively pursue weight-loss goals. There are also some studies out there that suggest it’s possible for acupuncture of the ear (a.k.a. auricular acupuncture) to help people achieve weight loss. “Auricular acupuncture is used to help reduce people’s cravings,” says licensed acupuncturist Alan Genitempo, DACM, LAc, owner of Recovr Acupuncture & Sports Rehab.
Ultimately, there just isn’t enough conclusive scientific evidence to say either way at this point—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try acupuncture while you lose weight if it interests you. “There’s data that shows it helps and data that shows it doesn’t help—we don’t know for sure,” says Charlie Seltzer, MD, a Philadelphia-based weight loss specialist. “And whenever we don’t know, we look at the risk and the benefit. In this case, the benefit of acupuncture is potentially high, and there’s really no risk if you’re doing it in the hands of a skilled practitioner.” Noted.
How exactly would acupuncture work for weight loss anyway?
Acupuncture may stimulate the release of certain chemicals in the body like serotonin and endorphins, otherwise known as those “feel-good” hormones we need to live a normal, happy life, explains Genitempo.
So if you’re looking to feel a little better in general, acupuncture may have some potential benefits. As a result of those mood perks, it’s plausible that you may be able to more effectively go after your weight-loss goals if you are in a positive headspace. But that indirect acupuncture-weight loss connection is only a theory; it’s not proven.
As for ear acupuncture? The thinking is that cravings are largely related to memory, he explains, and when we crave something it’s because we remember that a certain taste makes us feel good. Because the ear is located near the hippocampus (an area of the brain that plays an important role in memory), doing acupuncture in the ear helps stimulate cranial nerves associated with stifling those memory-induced cravings. However, Genitempo notes that more research needs to be done.
Would you need to pair acupuncture with a nutritious diet and exercise to see weight-loss benefits?
Acupuncture alone isn’t going to be the reason you experience a change in weight. Even participants in the few studies available paired their acupuncture treatments with lifestyle changes like exercising more and eating a well-rounded, healthy diet.
Basically, the impact that acupuncture can have on your weight-loss goals goes beyond the actual treatment itself, explains Dr. Seltzer. If you’re making a commitment to receiving acupuncture treatment, then you may subconsciously eat less, sleep better, or feel more chilled out overall as a result, he points out.
These are all habits that would, in turn, help a person lose weight, which demonstrates that acupuncture could play a more secondary role in weight loss rather than be the main driving factor. So while it may not be the magic treatment you were searching for, if you’re looking for more ways to add weight-shedding practices to your routine, that’s still a major plus.
How many acupuncture sessions would you need to do for weight-loss benefits?
If you’re wondering if one session is enough to see impressive weight-loss results, hold up. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t see results from going to the gym one time either.
Both Hsu and Genitempo generally recommend that patients seeking weight loss of around 10 to 15 pounds should receive treatment for six to eight weeks, several times a week in the beginning, and then taper off visits as time passes depending on how the process is going.
“It depends on the person,” Genitempo says. “Some people have an amazing propensity to react to the treatments and others don’t. A lot of it is physical and a lot of it is psycho-emotional. How much do you buy into it emotionally? You’ve got to be behind it 100 percent.”
TLDR; consistency and belief is key (hi, placebo!). If you’re trying to make a change, you’re going to have to incorporate acupuncture and other lifestyle changes on a regular basis in order to see results that last for the long term.
Sooo is there any harm in adding acupuncture to a weight-loss routine?
If you’re eager to add acupuncture into your weight-loss regimen and can afford it (a single session may cost anywhere from $70 to $200+), Dr. Seltzer says it’s worth a try. Negative side effects are unlikely, and at a minimum you’ll leave each session feeling more relaxed than you did before you started.
That said, Dr. Seltzer says you should consider this before you drop your hard-earned cash on treatments: “Acupuncture may be a helpful tool, but there are other avenues that have more research behind them, like eating in a calorie deficit or moving a little bit more,” Dr. Seltzer explains. “For someone who has finite resources wanting to do something to lose weight, getting a basic understanding of how nutrition and calorie balance works is going to be a better spend of their money than acupuncture.”
In general, if someone feels that acupuncture improves their quality of life, then that might lead them to make better choices regarding diet and exercise, which ultimately could help them lose weight. However, we’ve yet to see any substantial data that proves receiving acupuncture treatment *alone* leads to weight loss.