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Treatment of insulin resistance by acupuncture: a review of human and animal studies


Background Numerous experimental studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can correct various metabolic disorders such as hyperglycaemia, overweight, hyperphagia, hyperlipidaemia, inflammation, altered activity of the sympathetic nervous system, and insulin signalling defects, all of which contribute to the development of insulin resistance.

Objective To review human and animal studies investigating acupuncture as a treatment for insulin resistance, and to evaluate its potential to increase insulin sensitivity.

Methods PubMed was searched for relevant articles published between January 2008 and October 2015. Search terms used were ‘acupuncture’, ‘insulin resistance’, ‘insulin sensitivity’, and ‘blood glucose’. Additional secondary sources of information included reference lists from retrieved papers and pertinent papers identified by hand searches of relevant journals not found in the database.

Results In total, 31 articles were included in this review and comprised studies of the following insulin resistant conditions: obesity (n=9); diabetes mellitus (n=12); polycystic ovarian syndrome (n=7); skeletal muscle atrophy (n=1); ischaemic heart disease (n=1); and fatty liver disease (n=1). Of these articles, seven were human trials and 24 animal experiments. Collectively, the studies suggest that electroacupuncture (EA) at low intensity and low frequency can reduce insulin resistance and increase insulin sensitivity in a range of different insulin-resistant conditions.

Conclusions EA, used alone or in combination with other therapies, such as Chinese herbs or diet-exercise interventions, has the potential to be an effective treatment for insulin resistance. Additional controlled clinical studies of acupuncture are needed in subjects with diabetes mellitus, ischaemic heart disease, muscle atrophy, and fatty liver disease.


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