Exploring the basis for Acupuncture Treatment of Eating Disorders; A Mixed Methods Study

By Lucy Clarke


Background: This piece of primary research explores if there is a basis for acupuncture treatment of eating disorders. The findings are intended to inform current clinical practice and support future studies in this area, such as a case series or clinical trial. Little is known about the actual practices of UK acupuncturists and this study was designed to discover these.  Also, limited information is available which documents the experiences of acupuncture from a patient’s perspective, this has also been investigated. In addition, barriers to acupuncture treatment were explored from practitioner and patient viewpoints.

Aims and Objectives: Broad research objectives were investigated in order to explore if demand, evidence and supporting theory existed for the treatment of eating disorders with traditional acupuncture. This research captures practitioner and patient views, experiences and identification of key treatment issues involved in this area.

Methods: Mixed methodology was employed to structure and conduct the study. The data was gathered primarily using self-completion questionnaires and respondent semi-structured interviews. In addition, in-depth interviews with Key Informants were conducted. The data gathered was analysed and reported using Thematic Framework Analysis. A further synthesis process was carried out in order to extract key treatment issues which emerged from the findings. 

Findings: Findings from participants have been documented and key issues relating to acupuncture treatment extracted and expanded upon in the discussion. These include treatment practicalities and subtle factors important to the practitioner-patient dynamic. Also, treating patients’ emotional disharmonies alongside their physical condition is essential in the recovery process, with particular reference to anxiety, depression and poor self esteem.

Conclusions: This research study reports beneficial effects of acupuncture treatment by both acupuncturists and patients.