Potential role for acupuncture in the treatment of food addiction and obesity

Acupunct Med. 2018 Feb;36(1):52-55. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2017-011366. Epub 2017 Dec 9.


Addressing the global obesity epidemic requires innovative approaches that are also acceptable to affected individuals. There is growing evidence suggesting that food addiction, one contributor to obesity, bears many similarities to drug and alcohol addiction, presenting a potential role for addiction-focused acupuncture as a novel treatment modality. In this perspective article, we begin by briefly reviewing the evidence linking food and drug/alcohol addiction. We then describe the development of an acupuncture-based protocol for treating opioid addiction in Hong Kong in the 1970s and discuss the evidence base for acupuncture's efficacy in treating a range of substance use disorders. Next, we describe acupuncture's proposed mechanism of action in attenuating withdrawal and promoting abstinence. Finally, we note the dearth of studies specifically examining the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating food addiction and suggest that more research should focus in this area as part of the effort to combat rising rates of obesity worldwide.

Keywords: acupuncture; auricular acupuncture; electroacupuncture; substance misuse.

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Animals
  • Food Addiction / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome