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Can acupuncture help reverse insulin resistance?

Acupuncture may provide therapeutic value for treating insulin resistance, according to researchers from Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine in China. The researchers looked at how using acupuncture — as either primary or adjunct therapy — can affect insulin resistance.

Their report, published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, provides evidence that acupuncture helps reduce insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is a prevalent condition

Insulin is among the most important hormones in the body, as it regulates glucose (blood sugar) levels. To note, insulin helps glucose enter the body’s cells so it can be used for energy. It also signals the liver to store glucose in the form of glycogen for later use.

However, if too much glucose enters the bloodstream, this causes the pancreas to produce more insulin to help glucose enter the cells. Over time, the cells stop responding to insulin – a condition known as insulin resistance. To note, if the pancreas can produce enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance in cells, a person’s glucose levels will stay in the healthy range.

Insulin resistance, however, increases a person’s risk of developing chronic conditions, including Type 2 diabetes. Those with insulin resistance are more likely to develop a condition called prediabetes, in which their blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Over time, extra glucose stays in the bloodstream, and a person ultimately develops Type 2 diabetes. In the U.S. alone, over 84 million people above the age of 18 – that’s one in three adults – are considered prediabetic.


Lifestyle plays an important role in a person’s risk factors for insulin resistance and prediabetes. Some factors include physical inactivity, poor diet and being overweight or obese. People who have metabolic syndrome — that is, a list of conditions that make them more likely to develop chronic disease — are also likely candidates for prediabetes.

  • Abdominal obesity. This means having a waist circumference of over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men
  • High blood pressure. People with metabolic syndrome have a blood pressure of 130/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) or higher
  • Impaired fasting blood glucose. This means a level equal to or greater than 100 mg/dL
  • High triglyceride levels. This means a level of more than 150 mg/dL
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol. An HDL level of less than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women

Acupuncture may improve insulin resistance

In their report, the team looked at acupuncture and its effectiveness for treating insulin resistance.

Acupuncture is a form of medicine that’s widely used in China. It involves the insertion of very thin needles through the skin at very strategic points on the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is a technique for balancing the flow of energy, or qi, through the pathways in the body.

The team searched multiple databases for randomized controlled trials on patients with insulin resistance receiving acupuncture as part of their treatment. They included 20 studies — covering 1,639 patients — in their review. Based on the results, acupuncture exhibited positive outcomes in homeostasis model assessments for insulin resistance. The treatment, in particular, improved scores in the insulin sensitivity index with fewer adverse events reported.

“Acupuncture was well tolerated by patients with fewer mild and transient side effects, and no withdrawals were reported due to serious adverse events,” the team wrote in their report.

From their findings, the researchers hope that future studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating insulin resistance will cover more multi-center and rigorous blinded studies. (Related: Acupuncture proven effective at treating post-operative nausea; but modern medicine marginalizes true potential of acupuncture.)

Learn more about the health benefits of acupuncture at

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