Article Text

Potential role for acupuncture in the treatment of food addiction and obesity
  1. Jason Aaron Chen1,
  2. Justin Albert Chen2,
  3. Sanghoon Lee3,
  4. Gerard Mullin4
  1. 1 Department of Medicine, Division of Integrative Medicine, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Glen Burnie, Maryland, USA
  2. 2 Depression Clinical and Research Program, School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3 Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul, Korea
  4. 4 Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jason Aaron Chen, Departments of Medicine and Integrative Medicine, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Glen Burnie, MD 21218, USA; jason.chen{at}


Addressing the global obesity epidemic requires innovative approaches that are also acceptable to affected individuals. There is growing evidence suggesting that food addiction, one contributor to obesity, bears many similarities to drug and alcohol addiction, presenting a potential role for addiction-focused acupuncture as a novel treatment modality. In this perspective article, we begin by briefly reviewing the evidence linking food and drug/alcohol addiction. We then describe the development of an acupuncture-based protocol for treating opioid addiction in Hong Kong in the 1970s and discuss the evidence base for acupuncture’s efficacy in treating a range of substance use disorders. Next, we describe acupuncture’s proposed mechanism of action in attenuating withdrawal and promoting abstinence. Finally, we note the dearth of studies specifically examining the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating food addiction and suggest that more research should focus in this area as part of the effort to combat rising rates of obesity worldwide.

  • acupuncture
  • substance misuse
  • electroacupuncture
  • auricular acupuncture

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  • Contributors All the authors: were involved in the conceptualisation and execution of this article; made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work, or the acquisition, analysis or interpretation of data; drafted the manuscript and/or revised it critically for important intellectual content; approved the final version accepted for publication; and agree to be held accountable for all aspects of the work by ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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