Obesity: A literature review investigating the potential of acupuncture as an effective aid to weight loss

By Elaine Wilson


Obesity is increasingly recognised, in terms of orthodox medicine, as a causative or complicating factor in disease. The incidence of obesity is reported to be on the increase, establishing trends towards higher incidence of related disease.

For sufferers it commonly impacts negatively both on the physical and mental-emotional states. Holistically, therefore, obesity should be viewed as a medical condition in its own right.

In respect of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the view of obesity is complex, involving many patterns of disharmony, and implicating all zang organs in its pathology.
Weight-loss is usually considered as the main indicator of success of treatment. Although there are numerous clinical trials reporting positive findings in respect of the effectiveness of acupuncture as an aide to weight loss, National Health Service decision makers have, since November 2001, been advised that acupuncture is unlikely to be of benefit, and, as such, has no role in the treatment of obesity.

The purpose of this research was to examine all available evidence to determine whether there is indeed any potential for acupuncture as an effective aide to weight loss in the treatment of obesity. Furthermore, whether there is any justification for the advice to National Health Service decision makers. To achieve this, an extensive literature review was designed and conducted, taking into account the best practice demonstrated in previous systematic reviews involving acupuncture.
The findings of this new study are that there is valid evidence, albeit limited, that acupuncture has the potential to effect weight loss in obese patients, and, therefore, that there is support for a role for acupuncture in the treatment of obesity. However, this study, in common with others before, concludes that there is a need for more and improved clinical trials to fully determine the potential of acupuncture. Hence it proposes considerations for further work.