Digestive issues such as nausea, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and vomiting can significantly diminish a person’s quality of life. For some folks, even the most careful nutritional habits aren’t enough to manage digestive issues. Can acupuncture help? There is strong evidence that acupuncture for digestive health is effective in treating nausea and vomiting and several pilot studies suggest acupuncture may also help with other chronic digestive concerns including bloating, IBS, constipation, diarrhea, peptic ulcer disease, and Crohn’s disease.
The mechanism by which acupuncture alleviates digestive issues is increasingly understood. It is believed that acupuncture stimulates nerves that carry information to the central nervous system and activates responses in the gut. One example of this mechanism is that acupuncture may provide a regulatory effect in the gut by stimulating or suppressing peristalsis. In other words, in individuals with poor gastric motility, acupuncture may stimulate peristalsis; whereas for those with high gastric mobility, acupuncture can suppress peristalsis.
For individuals with chronic constipation, increased peristalsis may alleviate their condition as well as the pain and discomfort that often accompany constipation. Alternatively, by calming peristalsis, symptoms of nausea and vomiting may be better managed. Additionally, acupuncture has been shown to inhibit acid production in the digestive tract and promote better digestion. Reduced acid production may be beneficial in the treatment of many digestive issues including acid reflux and peptic ulcer disease. Most importantly, much of the research suggests that acupuncture for digestive health mediates your own body’s functions and provide a natural approach to managing gastrointestinal diseases.
According to theory in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the main organs of focus for digestive health are the spleen and the stomach. Gastrointestinal health depends on balance between the spleen and the stomach. Digestive problems often arise from other health issues – chronic fatigue or illness negatively effects spleen functioning. Poor diet, infections, environmental toxins are also associated with imbalances in the spleen and stomach. And of course, emotional disturbances can promote poor spleen and stomach health, which brings us to another benefit of acupuncture for digestive health. Namely, acupuncture takes a holistic approach.
For acupuncturists, treatment must dive deeper than your immediate physical symptoms. Your acupuncturist is not only concerned about the physical impact or consequences of health, but the connection between mind and body. Even from a Western medical perspective, there are known links between stress and digestive health; as specialists in Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncturists are keenly attuned to your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.