Insulin resistance (IR) is closely associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), hypertension, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), non-alcohol fatty liver diseases (NAFLD) and metabolic syndrome and is also a risk factor for serious diseases such as cardiovascular diseases. Pharmacological treatments available for IR are limited by drug adverse effects. Because acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years in China, it has been increasingly used worldwide for IR-related diseases. This review analyses 234 English publications listed on the PubMed database between 1979 and 2009 on the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for IR. These publications provide clinical evidence, although limited, in support of the effectiveness of acupuncture in IR. At this stage, well-designed, evidence-based clinical randomized controlled trial studies are therefore needed to confirm the effects of acupuncture on IR. Numerous experimental studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can correct various metabolic disorders such as hyperglycemia, overweight, hyperphagia, hyperlipidemia, inflammation, altered activity of the sympathetic nervous system and insulin signal defect, all of which contribute to the development of IR. In addition, acupuncture has the potential to improve insulin sensitivity. The evidence has revealed the mechanisms responsible for the beneficial effects of acupuncture, though further investigations are warranted.