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Does Acupuncture Work Better Than Exercise for Weight Loss?

written by: Dr. Pharm Tao • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 9/15/2010

Acupuncture has been used extensively for the treatment of obesity. Many clinical studies have demonstrated that acupuncture has good effects for weight loss. In some cases, it has better effects than other general methods such as exercises.

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    How Acupuncture Works for Weight Loss

    Acupuncture has been used extensively for the treatment of obesity. Many clinical studies have demonstrated that acupuncture has good effects for weight loss. For example, a group of Korean researchers investigated the effects of electroacupuncture performed at abdominal meridian points among 31 women with obesity (Lee et al., 2006). They measured several parameters before and after the trial, including the body weight, body fat percentage, and waist and hip circumferences. Their results showed that all of these measurements reduced significantly after the acupuncture treatment, especially the waist circumference.

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    Acupuncture May Have Better Effect than Exercises

    Some studies compared the efficacy of acupuncture versus other interventions, such as exercises and low-calorie diets. For example, a study done in Taiwan compared the effects between electroacupuncture and a sit-up exercise among 54 obese women who were randomly divided into two groups (Hsu et al., 2005). For the first six weeks, the first group received electroacupuncture treatment and the second group performed the sit-up exercise. After this first session and seven days of washout, the two groups switched the acupuncture treatment and the exercise, i.e., the first group performed the sit-up exercise and the second group received electroacupuncture treatment for another six weeks.

    Researchers measured the body weight, waist circumference, and body mass index of the patients at the beginning of the study, and during the sixth, eighth and thirteenth week of the study. They found that electroacupuncture treatment was significantly more effective than the sit-up exercise in weight loss and reducing the waist circumference.

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    Acupuncture and Low-calorie Diets

    Another group in Poland compared the efficacy between the low-calorie diet and low-calorie diet plus laser acupuncture, applied in the treatment of obesity among postmenopausal women (Wozniak, 2003). They divided 74 postmenopausal women with obesity into two groups. The first group had a low-calorie diet, and the second group had the same kind of diet plus laser acupuncture therapy.

    The researchers of the trial measured the body weight, body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio of the women in the two groups. After six months of the trial, both groups showed a statistically significant reduction in the body weight and other indexes. However, such reduction was much more significant in the group of women treated with both laser acupuncture and the low-calorie diet. Their study indicated that the low-calorie diet plus laser acupuncture had better effects than a low-calorie diet alone.

    According to the above examples, it seems that acupuncture is a useful and effective way for weight loss and for the treatment of obesity. In some cases, it may have better effects than other general methods such as exercises. The combination of acupuncture with other methods such as low-calorie diets can have better effects than a single method alone. However, most of these studies have relatively low number of participants. Further trials among larger populations with longer periods of time would be more helpful for evaluating the efficacy of acupuncture treatment on obesity.

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    Hsu, C. H., K. C. Hwang, et al. (2005). "Effects of electroacupuncture in reducing weight and waist circumference in obese women: a randomized crossover trial." Int J Obes (Lond) 29(11): 1379-84.

    Lee, M. S., J. Hwan Kim, et al. (2006). "Effects of abdominal electroacupuncture on parameters related to obesity in obese women: a pilot study." Complement Ther Clin Pract 12(2): 97-100.

    Wozniak, P., G. Stachowiak, et al. (2003). "Laser acupuncture and low-calorie diet during visceral obesity therapy after menopause." Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 82(1): 69-73.

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