Alternative Therapies for Food Addiction – Acupuncture

Alternative therapies like acupuncture for food addiction? You may be skeptical about food addiction and about alternative therapies — and that’s fair. But consider the case for acupuncture to treat food addiction, including food cravings.

In reality, scientists have only recently begun to realize that there is a biology to food addiction that makes it very real, not just an imaginary or “psychological” problem or a non-problem in conventional medical terms. But for decades, certain alternative doctors had already seen patients that they saw went through withdrawal syndromes during short water-based fasts that looked as it they were withdrawing from opiate drugs. One of the earliest modern discoveries about acupuncture is that acupuncture can modify activity of the endorphin-regulating pathways in the brain.

So, maybe there is a useful connection?

If the brain is cycling in food addiction between temporary relief and withdrawal from exogenous food-derived exorphins and/or natural endorphins in the brain pathways involved in the pain and reward pathways, what could be done with alternative therapies to help? Acupuncture can help with rebalancing the body to function in a healthier way, lessening food cravings, supporting efforts to lose weight in some people, and treating depression, anxiety, and stress in others.


One of the first and best alternative therapies that I found to helpful to some people with food addiction is acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient technique that originated as a major part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system. There are many different styles and methods of performing the actual treatments. Among the better known approaches are 8 Principle and 5 Element systems of practice. There are also simplistic forms of acupuncture that MDs might practice, called medical acupuncture, which is less driven by traditional Chinese medicine theory of health and disease and more likely focused on treating symptoms.

Acupuncturists rely on maps of “energy” channels along the body called meridians. Acupoints occur at various locations along the meridians. Some points are more influential than others, something like a hub location for an airline. In diagnosis, acupuncturists typically take a lengthy history of symptoms and past health and emotional issues and examine your acupuncture “pulses” (a different way of assessing your heartbeat as determined at your wrist) and tongue for specific characteristics. TCM diagnoses are very different from conventional medical diagnoses, but they guide the respective systems of care in developing treatment plans.

In modern times, there are cold laser acupuncture methods without needles. However, traditionally, acupuncturists use very thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body. Areas where needles are inserted are often along the legs, trunk, and face and scalp. However, other systems focus on the ear as a microcosm of the body and primarily insert needles at specific points along the external ear area.

In general, acupuncture needles can be used to stimulate or sedate specific pathways in the body that control various functions. Sometimes a person has an “excess” or a “deficiency” of types of subtle energy in the overall system. Some might find a spleen energy deficiency in some food addicts, for instance. Note that even if there is wording that implies a bodily organ whose name is familiar, the Chinese concept of that “energy” pattern is usually not simply localized to the physical organ in the body.

It is possible for skilled practitioners to treat people with acute and/or chronic illnesses. Some research shows potential benefits of acupuncture in treating nausea associated with pregnancy or chemotherapy of cancer as well as various chronic pain problems in back or knee. Other studies suggest that acupuncture can sometimes help lessen pain in fibromyalgia or even improve mood in people with depression. Generally acupuncture treatments are safe. In many settings, acupuncturists also use disposable needles, which eliminates the risk of any disease transmission from improper sterilization.

But, for the purpose of understanding food addiction treatment, it may make the most sense to understand that acupuncture treatment can restore an inner balance and healthier interactivity of the body parts. It is important to understand that the body is made up of interconnected parts that influence each other’s function. The emergent of all the interconnections and interactions of the parts is the whole person — i.e., you as a unique individual.

In technical terms, the body is a complex adaptive system. When the links between parts get imbalanced, dysfunction and disease can result. Like other addictions (e.g., alcohol, drugs), food addiction might also be treatable with acupuncture because of its ability to restore functional balance around the body as a whole system.

When people have food addictions, they usually have specific food cravings. And dietary habits and cravings (e.g., salty or sweet) inform the acupuncturist during history-taking where your systemic imbalances might be. The recognition of the imbalances leads to the choice of points to stimulate and/or sedate in treatment.  In short, acupuncture is a non-drug way to use alternative therapies for food addiction and its associated symptoms. It seems worth a good try in terms of potential risks (low) and benefits (high).

About the Author Kris Greenway

Natural Wellness Zone is a blog discussion of approaches to self care using complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies that make sense to help people dealing with a range of health challenges. Kris Greenway is a fellow patient who has researched and found more natural ways to deal with a long list of health problems, including type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, leaky gut, and arthritis. She includes information and updates from expert physicians to educate people about their natural wellness options.