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Weight Loss

Chinese Medicine for Weight Loss: Does It Really Work?

Published on: March 29, 2019

Chinese Medicine for Weight Loss: Does It Really Work?

If you’re considering to try Chinese medicine for weight loss, here’s everything you need to know to make the right decision. We’re going to discuss some of the popular Chinese medicine practices, how they work, their scientific research, and how you can get started. We’ll also be discussing potential risks and side effects you need to be aware of.

What Is Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the medicinal practices used in China for thousands of years. Some popular types of Chinese medicine are acupuncture, Tai Chi, Tui Na, moxibustion, and herbal medicine.

Most TCM practices are based on their belief that improving “Qi (life force)” can improve one’s health. What this means is that Chinese medicine looks at your whole inner being instead of only focusing on what’s outside.

Types of Chinese Medicine


Acupuncture is a major component of the traditional Chinese medicine and it involves the strategic insertion of thin needles on different points on your body. It’s commonly used to treat pain, stress, for overall health management [1].

TCM practitioners believe that acupuncture helps to rebalance the “energy flow” in your body to the right places. Modern practitioners see acupuncture as a way to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues involved in boosting the body’s natural pain killers.


Moxibustion is a heat treatment which involves burning a spongy plant material known as “moxa” close to certain parts of the skin to induce healing [2]. According to traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion promotes the flow of “qi” to the right places and helps get rid of disease-causing factors. “Qi” is translated to “air” or “life force” in Chinese.

Tui na

Tui na, pronounced as “Twee naw” means “pinch and pull” and it’s a type of therapeutic massage in the TCM. Tui na is used for therapeutic purposes like acupuncture. It’s often used as an adjuvant to moxibustion, acupuncture, qigong, and other types of Chinese medicine.

Qi gong

Qigong is one of the oldest types of traditional Chinese medicine practiced for thousands of years and there are many types of qigong [4]. It’s a holistic approach of slow and flowing dance-like movements that focus on body posture, movement, breathing, and meditation.

The main theory behind this ancient practice is that our “life-force energy” will flow towards where we focus our attention. Qigong is widely used for medicinal, spiritual, and martial arts purposes.

Tai chi

Tai chi is quite similar to qigong, and it involves slow graceful, and focused movements performed along with deep breathing and meditation to promote healing. Tai chi is often used to treat stress and anxiety, to improve mood, quality of sleep, and to give an overall boost to the body’s immune system [3].


Chinese herbal medicine

Chinese herbal medicine combines the use of thousands of different plants, minerals, and animal products in various formulas such as teas, capsules, and powders.

Water decoction is the popular form of Chinese herbal medicine, and it involves adding 1 to 13 medicinal agents (1 to 12 g each) to water and boiling it for a certain amount time. The medicinal liquid is then separated from the herbs to be consumed [5].

How Does Chinese Medicine Help with Weight Loss?

Here’s what research has to say about the use of Chinese medicine for weight loss.


A 2018 systematic review found that acupuncture, when combined with lifestyle modifications might be effective for weight loss in overweight people [6]. However, they’ve also noted that acupuncture was more beneficial for those in the overweight range <25 - <30 BMI, and not in the obese participants.

In a 2015 study, 80 obese patients were divided into 3 groups according to their BMI. They all received acupuncture treatment for 3-6 months along with a low-calorie diet. Results revealed that acupuncture combined with a calorie restricted diet was useful for weight loss and it also reduced inflammatory reactions [7].

In another 2015 study, 10 healthy participants were assigned to receive either auricular acupuncture or placebo weekly for a month. Results revealed a significant change in body weight, and ghrelin secretion in the acupuncture group [8].

Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone because it’s usually secreted when the stomach is empty and induces the feeling of hunger. The study concluded that auricular acupuncture may help with weight loss by suppressing ghrelin production which in turn reduces appetite.

In a 2017 study, 71 obese patients received weekly acupuncture combined with nutritional consultation for four weeks. In total, the patients received 12 acupuncture treatments that lasted for 30 minutes each, and a weekly consultation [9].

Results revealed that acupuncture treatment combined with nutritional consultation was effective in reducing body mass, fat mass, and body fat percentage in obese patients.


A 2014 study conducted on menopause rats found that acupuncture and moxibustion has a positive impact on weight loss. Their results revealed a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol and fat accumulation [10].

In a 2018 study, 51 Asian women with a waist circumference of >80 cm were divided into two groups. The treatment group received 20 min session of moxibustion and a 30 min educational video. The participants in the control group only received the educational program every other week for 8 weeks [11].

Results revealed a significant reduction of average body weight in the treatment group while no changes in average body weight were observed in the control group. The study also found that the participants in the moxibustion treatment group also had a significant reduction in both waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.


Tai Chi

In a 2015 study, 374 middle-aged participants were randomized to 12 weeks (45 minutes per day, 5 days per week) training of Tai Chi, or self-paced walking, or control group. Results revealed that both the Tai Chi and Walking groups lost a significant amount of weight [12].

As stated earlier, one of the most common benefits of Tai Chi is improved mood and sleep quality [13]. Both sleep quality and mood can impact weight loss or weight gain. For instance, some people have a habit of eating junk food when they’re stressed out or when they stay awake during the night due to poor sleep.

Chinese herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is a huge component of Chinese traditional medicine. Here are some of the popular Chinese herbs that can be used for weight loss.


Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng is a popular herb used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Ginsenosides and gintonin have been found to be the major active components responsible for the therapeutic properties of ginseng.

As far as weight loss is concerned, Panax ginseng can help by enhancing your mood and improving your energy levels. In a 2013 study, 90 participants with idiopathic chronic fatigue received either Panax ginseng extract or a placebo every day for 4 weeks. Results revealed that Panax ginseng has anti-fatigue effects [14].

Another 2005 study found that Panax ginseng has ergogenic properties, which means it can help enhance exercise performance and help recover faster from exhaustive exercise [15].

A 2014 study conducted on 10 obese middle-aged women found Panax ginseng extract to be effective for weight loss [16]. And a recent 2017 study has found that Panax ginseng leaf extract has antiobesity effects in obese rats [17].


Angelica Root

Angelica Sinensis is a herb used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat and prevent various diseases. In a 2017 study, high-fat diet induced obese mice were divided into 5 groups.

One was a normal diet group, one was a high-fat diet group, and the rest were high-fat diet groups with a low, medium, or high dosage of angelica root extract. The treatment was carried out for 4 weeks [18].

The study found that angelica root extract could help treat high-fat-diet-induced obesity.



Goji berry is another ultra-popular Chinese medicinal plant. It has even been considered as a superfood due to its abundant antioxidant capacity, and other health benefits.

In a 2017 study, patients with metabolic syndrome were divided into 2 groups. One group received goji berry extract and one group received a placebo for 45 days. Results revealed that there was a significant reduction in waist circumference in the treatment group compared to the placebo group [19].

Improved fat oxidation and lipid profile were also found in the group that consumed goji berry extract.


Panax ginseng C. A. Mey (Ren Shen)

Panax Ginseng is also known as Changbai Mountain Ginseng (CMG) and it’s commonly found in Northeast China. CMG is considered to be one of the most expensive types of ginseng, and studies have shown that it can enhance exercise performance [20]. Although there aren’t sufficient  

Cost of Chinese Medicine for Weight Loss

The cost of Chinese medicine for weight loss depends on the type of treatment you’ve decided to try.  Acupuncture, for instance, can cost anywhere between $50 to $100 per session in the United States.

Qi gong and Tai Chi lessons can vary depending on the center, and locations. You can expect to pay $50 - $120 per hour for lessons, and some centers offer coupons and promotions for their customers.

Herbal products can also vary in price. For instance, the supplement form might be cheaper than tea or powder form.

Be sure to read verified customer reviews of each treatment service, clinics, and check the validity of their qualifications before receiving your treatment.

How to Use Chinese Medicine for Weight loss

1. Do not use it as a replacement

If you wish to try Chinese medicine for weight loss, do not try to replace it as an alternative to eating a healthy diet and exercise. You should still make an effort to adopt healthy lifestyle habits to make it work in the long run.


2. Get it from qualified professionals.

Research about the credentials and license of the health care clinic and practitioners you choose to get your treatment from. Make sure their certificates and credentials are valid to avoid being treated by fake practitioners.

Also, avoid falling prey for some “Chinese healing masters” who claim to possess supernatural healing powers.

3. Pregnant or nursing?

Please consult with a qualified and experienced physician before if you wish to try Chinese medicine when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

4. Be transparent with your TCM practitioner

It’s extremely important that you tell your Chinese medicine practitioner about your current health conditions, and any medications, supplements, or other treatments you’re taking. This is because some Chinese medicine and treatments can interfere with other drugs and medications.

5. It’s all about “Qi”

As stated earlier, Chinese medicine is all about “Qi”, also known as the “life force”. The majority of Chinese medicine treatments are focused on improving and directing “qi” to the right places to induce healing.

Eliminating highly processed and sugary foods and replacing them with whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts, is one way to start improving your “Qi”.

Science agrees with eliminating bad foods and eating healthy foods for weight loss. For example, in a 2007 study, 16 overweight adolescent females completed a 12-week low carb diet. They found out that low sugar intake significantly improved insulin secretion [21]. Improved insulin resistance can help with weight loss.

6. Dosage

If you’re going to take Chinese herbal medicine for weight loss, you need to be careful to avoid overdosing. Research about any adverse effects and if it’s worth the risk before trying out certain types of Chinese herbs.

Also, remember that not all of the Chinese medicinal plants have valid evidence to support their weight loss claims.

7. Join a support group

No matter what type of Chinese medicine you’ve decided to try, you’ll find a lot easier to keep up with it if you join a support group. It can be a forum, Facebook group, or Instagram group, joining one can become handy when you have questions, and also motivate you.

Chinese Medicine Side Effects & Risks

Here are some side effects and risks associated with traditional Chinese medicine [22].

Marked as dietary supplements

A lot of herbal products used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are labeled and sold as dietary supplements in the United States. The manufacturers of dietary supplements don’t have to prove the claims of the product to FDA, whereas they would have to if the products were being sold as over the counter drugs.


Some Chinese herbal products can be contaminated with drugs, toxins, or heavy metals, and some may not contain the ingredients they claim to. This can cause adverse effects, especially in people who suffer from certain health conditions.

For instance, a Chinese herb called ephedra has been linked to heart attack and stroke, and the FDA has banned dietary supplements containing this herb in 2004. However, the ban doesn’t apply to traditional Chinese medicine remedies.


Acupuncture needles contamination

Only qualified practitioners can use the acupuncture needles according to the FDA. the needles are required to be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use only. Failing to follow any of these rules can sometimes result in contamination related adverse effects to the person receiving the treatment.

Other side effects of some Chinese medicine can include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Burns
  • infections


Traditional Chinese medicine is becoming increasingly popular to treat and prevent various diseases. Some of the popular types of Chinese medicine include acupuncture, Tai Chi, Qi gong, Tui na, and herbal medicine. They have been used for centuries, and some of them do have reasonable valid evidence to support their claims.

Chinese medicine can be used for weight loss, however, please make sure to be transparent with your practitioner about any health conditions you may be suffering from, and also about all your medications, and supplements.

Also make sure to research about their qualifications, and to only receive treatment from a qualified practitioner with experience.


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  2. Deng H, Shen X. The Mechanism of Moxibustion: Ancient Theory and Modern Research. 2013 September -
  3. Abbott R, MD, Lavretsky H, MD. Tai Chi and Qigong for the Treatment and Prevention of Mental Disorders. 2014 March -
  4. Sun G-C, Ph.D. Qigong: Bio-Energy Medicine. 2008 October -
  5. Ergil , Kramer EJ, Ng AT. Chinese herbal medicines. 2002 September -
  6. Kim SY, Shin IS, Park YJ. Effect of acupuncture and intervention types on weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 2018 September -
  7. Ahmed Abou Ismail L et al. Effect of Acupuncture on Body Weight Reduction and Inflammatory Mediators in Egyptian Obese Patients. 2015 March -
  8. Ito H et al. The effects of auricular acupuncture on weight reduction and feeding-related cytokines: a pilot. 2015 February -
  9. Zhang HM et al. [Effect of Acupuncture Therapy on Body Compositions in Patients with Obesity]. 2017 April -
  10. Zhu S-P et al. Effects of Preventive Acupuncture and Moxibustion on Fat Accumulation, Blood Lipid, and Uterus E2 of Menopause Rats 2014 February -
  11. Hsieh C-H et al. Randomized controlled trial testing weight loss and abdominal obesity outcomes of moxibustion. 2018 November -
  12. Sai-Chuen Hui S et al. Effects of Tai Chi and Walking Exercises on Weight Loss, Metabolic Syndrome Parameters, and Bone Mineral Density: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial. 2015 October -
  13. Caldwell KL et al. Effects of tai chi chuan on anxiety and sleep quality in young adults: lessons from a randomized controlled feasibility study. 2016 November -
  14. Kim H-G et al. Antifatigue Effects of Panax ginsengA. Meyer: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. 2013 April -
  15. Kim SH et al. Effects of Panax ginseng extract on exercise-induced oxidative stress. 2005 June -
  16. Song M-Y, Kim B-S, Kim H. Influence of Panax ginseng on obesity and gut microbiota in obese middle-aged Korean women. 2014 January -
  17. Lee SG et al. Panax ginseng Leaf Extracts Exert Anti-Obesity Effects in High-Fat Diet-Induced Obese Rats. 2017 September -
  18. Zhong T et al. Angelica sinensis Suppresses Body Weight Gain and Alters Expression of the FTO Gene in High-Fat-Diet Induced Obese Mice. 2017 September -
  19. de Souza Zanchet MZ et al. Lycium barbarum Reduces Abdominal Fat and Improves Lipid Profile and Antioxidant Status in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome. 2017 June -
  20. Ma GD et al. Changbai Mountain Ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Mey) Extract Supplementation Improves Exercise Performance and Energy Utilization and Decreases Fatigue-Associated Parameters in Mice. 2017 February -
  21. Davis JN et al. Reduction in Added Sugar Intake and Improvement in Insulin Secretion in Overweight Latina Adolescents. 2010 March -
  22. Nccih – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Traditional Chinese Medicine: In Depth. 2013 October -

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