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Acupuncture for Weight Reduction

Clinical bottom line: There is no evidence that acupuncture or acupressure is effective for reducing weight or appetite in the obese. The few existing trials are of poor methodological quality.

Acupuncture is one of the most popular complementary therapies and is used for a wide variety of conditions. About one percent of consultations to British acupuncturists is for treatment of obesity.

Systematic Review

Ernst E. Acupuncture/Acupressure for Weight Reduction? A Systematic Review. Wien Klin Wochenschr 1997; 109(2): 60-62

Date review completed: 1996
Number of trials included: 4
Number of patients: A total of 270 in active and control groups, individual group sizes were not given
Control group: placebo/sham controlled studies
Main outcomes: appetite reduction and weight reduction

Inclusion criteria were randomised, placebo controlled trials of acupuncture or acupressure for weight loss or appetite reduction.The authors conducted a search of relevant databases (Medline and CISCOM) and reference lists of retrieved reports. Studies were scored for methodological quality (0 to 100). A score of 100 indicates a study of the optimum quality. Due to heterogeneity of included studies, regarding interventions, outcomes, and quality, data pooling was not possible and the reviewer provided a descriptive summary.


Four RCTs were included. Overall, the methodological quality of these trials was poor, three out of four trials scored less than 51/100. It is unclear from the review what the blinding status of three trials was, or what a significant reduction in weight loss or hunger was. Two trials were small, 10 or less patients per treatment group. Traditional Chinese acupuncture was given in three of the trials, ear acupressure was given in one. Treatment periods ranged from 3 to 12 weeks.

Taken together, two trials reported acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture for body weight and appetite reduction, two trials showed no difference between acupuncture or acupressure and placebo. The two positive trials were of the lowest methodological quality scoring only 20/100 on the quality scale. One had only 10 patients per treatment group and was not blind, in the other the blinding status was not clarified in the review, no formal statistical tests were carried out on the results, and it is not clear how weight reduction and hunger abatement were defined. In the two trials of higher methodological quality there was no difference in weight loss between the acupuncture or acupressure and placebo groups. Although having higher quality scores (50/100 and 80/100) these trials were not without methodological flaws, one had less than 10 patients per treatment group.

Adverse effects were not reported in the review

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