Obesity is a major health hazard and despite lifestyle modification, many patients frequently regain any lost body weight. The use of western anti-obesity drugs has been limited by side effects including mood changes, suicidal thoughts, and gastrointestinal or cardiovascular complications. The effectiveness and safety of traditional Chinese medicine including Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) and acupuncture provide an alternative established therapy for this medical challenge. In this systematic review, we used standard methodologies to search, review, analyse and synthesize published data on the efficacy, safety and relapse of weight regain associated with use of CHM and acupuncture. We also examined the rationale, mechanisms and potential utility of these therapies. A total of 12 electronic databases, including Chinese, English, Korean and Japanese, were searched up to 28 February 2010. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for CHM and/or acupuncture with comparative controls were considered. We used the Jadad scale to assess methodological qualities, the random effect model in the pooled analysis of therapeutic efficacy to adjust for heterogeneity and funnel plots to explore publication bias. After screening 2,545 potential articles from the electronic databases, we identified 96 RCTs; comprising of 49 trials on CHM treatment, 44 trials on acupuncture treatment and 3 trials on combined therapy for appraisal. There were 4,861 subjects in the treatment groups and 3,821 in the control groups, with treatment duration ranging from 2 weeks to 4 months. Of the 77 publications written in Chinese, 75 had a Jadad score <3, while 16 of the 19 English publications had a Jadad score of >3. Efficacy was defined as body weight reduction ≥ 2 kg or body mass index (BMI) reduction ≥ 0.5 kg/m(2) . Compared with placebo or lifestyle modification, CHM and acupuncture exhibited respective ‘risk ratio’ (RR) of 1.84 (95% CI: 1.37-2.46) and 2.14 (95% CI: 1.58-2.90) in favour of body weight reduction, with a mean difference in body weight reduction of 4.03 kg (95% CI: 2.22-5.85) and 2.76 kg (95% CI: 1.61-3.83) and a mean difference in BMI reduction of 1.32 kg m(-2) (95% CI: 0.78-1.85) and 2.02 kg m(-2) (95% CI: 0.94-3.10), respectively. Compared with the pharmacological treatments of sibutramine, fenfluramine or orlistat, CHM and acupuncture exhibited an RR of 1.11 (95% CI: 0.96-1.28) and 1.14 (95% CI: 1.03-1.25) in body weight reduction, mean difference in body weight reduction of 0.08 kg (95% CI: -0.58 to 0.74) and 0.65 kg (95% CI: -0.61 to 1.91), and mean difference in BMI reduction of 0.18 kg m(-2) (95% CI: -0.39 to 0.75) and 0.83 kg m(-2) (95% CI: 0.29-1.37), respectively. There were fewer reports of adverse effects and relapses of weight regain in CHM intervention studies conducted in China than studies conducted outside China. CHM and acupuncture were more effective than placebo or lifestyle modification in reducing body weight. They had a similar efficacy as the Western anti-obesity drugs but with fewer reported adverse effects. However, these conclusions were limited by small sample size and low quality of methodologies.
© 2012 The Authors. obesity reviews © 2012 International Association for the Study of Obesity.