Acupuncture for Digestive Problems

Good digestion is crucial to our day-to-day energy levels, and to our longer term nutritional status. We should ideally be able to eat well and widely, cooking from scratch, using fresh, healthy ingredients. This is a cornerstone of good health and disease resistance.

When our system works well, we take it for granted, but when it misbehaves, life can be very uncomfortable. I see conditions ranging from bloating and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), through to Crohn’s disease and colitis. Some patients have singled out foods which aggravate their symptoms, whilst others are clear that stress or anxiety are unhelpful.

If you come for treatment for a digestive problem, I will ask all about your diet and eating patterns, in addition to the detailed symptoms you have. I shall also be interested to hear whether you have identified any aggravating factors. As usual, we will go on to look at your health more widely, so that I can build an overall picture of you.

Particularly with IBS, I attach importance to the gut biome, and so I shall have this in mind when interviewing you. For example, common medications can be unhelpful here. You may have been prescribed several courses of antibiotics over a relatively short period of time. These can harm beneficial bacteria and upset the balance of our digestive system. Another common group of drugs, the proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole, can have an even greater effect than antibiotics, and are frequently taken for much longer. They can deplete beneficial bacteria and increase potentially harmful ones.

Please do call me to discuss your situation or to arrange an appointment. Below you can read the results of some of the research which has been undertaken into acupuncture for digestive problems. The trials vary in quality, but systematic reviews and randomised controlled trials are generally considered to provide the highest quality evidence. If you would like to read more about evidence quality, I would refer you to the British Acupuncture Council’s description of the evidence pyramid.

Acupuncture for Post-Operative Nausea

Acupuncture for post-operative nausea. A team at Botucatu Medical School, São Paulo State University, Brazil has demonstrated that acupuncture can significantly reduce the incidence of post-operative nausea in patients undergoing hysterectomy. A total of 97 patients were randomly allocated to receive either acupuncture or no acupuncture as a control. All patients received two standard drugs preventatively, in case of the occurrence of nausea and vomiting. Acupuncture was given at the point Neiguan bilaterally for 30 minutes pre-operatively.

Acupuncture was found to significantly reduce the incidence of nausea (29% versus 6%) and the need for rescue medication (33% versus 10%). Vomiting was unchanged.

(Effects of Preoperative Acupuncture on Prevention of Nausea and Vomiting and Plasma Serotonin Values in the Hysterectomy Postoperative Period: a Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Acupuncture & Meridian Studies, 31 October 2022.)

Acupuncture helps IBS

Research undertaken in China suggests acupuncture helps IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) more effectively than standard drug treatment. A total of 531 patients aged 18 to 70 with IBS, were randomised to receive either acupuncture or drug treatment over a six week period at seven hospitals. Patients were the followed up for a further 12 weeks. Acupuncture was given three times a week, making 18 sessions in total.

During treatment, IBS symptom scores decreased by 124 in the acupuncture group and by 95 in the drug treatment group. These differences between the two groups persisted after a further 12 weeks of follow-up. The researchers conclude that acupuncture is a more effective intervention for IBS, and results in clinically meaningful benefits with long-lasting effects.

(Effect of Acupuncture in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, August 2020.)

Acupuncture for Postoperative Nausea

Acupuncture in Exeter: acupuncture for postoperative nausea. An American randomised trial studying acupuncture for postoperative nausea, has shown that children receiving the treatment alongside anti-sickness medication, are less likely to experience symptoms. A total of 161 children aged 3 to 9 and undergoing tonsillectomy, were randomised to receive either acupuncture plus antiemetic drugs, or antiemetics alone. Acupuncture consisted of needling the well-known point Neiguan on each wrist.

During phases 1 and 2 of recovery, the incidence of postoperative nausea and vomiting was 7% in the acupuncture group and 35% in the group on medication alone. This was mainly due to the reduction in nausea. Vomiting was no different between the two groups. The day after surgery, nausea and vomiting was 36% in the acupuncture group and 49% in the medication only group.

(Randomized trial of acupuncture with antiemetics for reducing postoperative nausea in children. Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica , 6 November 2018.)

Acupuncture and Constipation

Acupuncture in Exeter: Acupuncture and constipation. A pilot study undertaken in Korea suggests acupuncture can offer clinically meaningful improvements in functional constipation (constipation not due to IBS or other diseases). Thirty patients with the condition, mean age 50, were randomised to receive either real acupuncture or sham acupuncture in a university hospital setting. The sham sessions consisted of 12 shallow needle insertions at non-acupuncture points. Patients received twelve treatment sessions over four weeks.

Real acupuncture, but not sham, resulted in clinically meaningful improvements in frequency of bowel movements, and these were maintained at follow-up four weeks after completion of treatment. The researchers conclude that a full-sized randomised controlled trial with long-term follow-up should be conducted to confirm their promising efficacy and safety findings.

(Efficacy & safety of acupuncture for functional constipation: a randomised, sham-controlled pilot trial. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 15 June 2018.)

Chinese authors of a network meta-analysis have concluded acupuncture ranks as one of the best non-pharmacological treatments for chronic functional constipation. They looked at 33 randomised trials covering over 4300 participants, which compared eight non-pharmacological treatments with placebo, sham and conventional interventions. Compared with laxatives, acupuncture had a significantly greater effect on stool frequency, with a lower incidence of adverse events.

(Non-pharmacological conservative treatments for chronic functional constipation: A systemic review & network meta-analysis. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 20 August 2018.)