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Acupunct Med 31:88-97 doi:10.1136/acupmed-2012-010247
  • Education and practice

Acupuncture in the treatment of obesity: a narrative review of the literature

  1. Apostolos I Hatzitolios1
  1. 1First Propedeutic Department of Internal Medicine, AHEPA Hospital, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece
  2. 2British Medical Acupuncture Society, Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Apostolos I Hatzitolios, First Propedeutic Department of Internal Medicine, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, AHEPA Hospital, 1 Stilponos Kyriakidi Street, 54646, Thessaloniki, Greece; axatzito{at}med.auth.gr
  • Received 14 September 2012
  • Revised 16 October 2012
  • Accepted 22 October 2012
  • Published Online First 15 November 2012

Abstract

Obesity is one of the leading health risk factors worldwide and is associated with several other risk factors and health problems including type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and malignancies. Current conventional therapeutic strategies for obesity cannot achieve adequate weight control in all patients, so complementary types of treatment are also performed. Acupuncture, one of the oldest healing practices, represents the most rapidly growing complementary therapy which is recognised by both the National Institutes of Health and the WHO. A previous review concluded that acupuncture was superior to lifestyle advice, to sham acupuncture and to conventional medication. In this narrative review, the possible mechanisms of actions and the results of recent experimental and clinical studies with different forms of acupuncture (eg, body, auricular, manual and electroacupuncture) are presented. In particular, the effects of acupuncture on anorexigenic and orexigenic peptides, insulin resistance, lipid metabolism and inflammatory markers are discussed. Both experimental and clinical current data suggest that acupuncture exerts beneficial effects on the mechanisms of obesity. Some data suggest that electroacupuncture may be more effective than manual acupuncture; however, the most effective frequency remains controversial. Combination of different forms of acupuncture with diet and exercise seems to be necessary for achieving and maintaining weight loss.  Further prospective clinical trials are needed to establish the effectiveness of this complementary method for obesity treatment.