Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice that involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate or balance the body's energy flow. While acupuncture is often used to treat pain, it has also been suggested as a potential treatment for various gut disorders.
Researchers have found some evidence to suggest that acupuncture may be a useful complementary therapy for conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and functional dyspepsia. Authors of a 2012 meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) found that acupuncture was significantly better than placebo at improving symptoms of IBS, including abdominal pain, bloating, and bowel movement frequency (1).
Other authors conducted a systematic review of 11 RCTs found that acupuncture may be effective for reducing symptoms of IBD, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation (2). However, more research is needed to confirm these findings and to determine the optimal acupuncture protocol for treating gut disorders.
Chinese Medicine practitioners know that there is a connection between the gut and the nervous system as well. Treatments are designed by the acupuncturist to balance emotional and physical symptoms, which is not the case with a medication only approach. Some providers do encourage patients with gut disorders to seek out emotional support, but not everyone makes the connection between emotional and physical conditions. Acupuncturists know there are other symptoms from these disorders that can be managed with acupuncture such as fatigue, depression, and social anxiety which severely impact quality of life.
It's worth noting that acupuncture should not be considered a substitute for conventional medical treatment for gut disorders. It may be used as a complementary therapy alongside other treatments, but patients should always consult with their healthcare provider before trying acupuncture or any other alternative therapy.
(1) Ji J, Lu Y, Liu H, Feng H, Zhang F, Wu L, Cui Y, Wu H. Acupuncture and moxibustion for inflammatory bowel diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:158352. doi: 10.1155/2013/158352. Epub 2013 Sep 24. PMID: 24204388; PMCID: PMC3800563.
(2) Yang X, Sun M, He M, Wang Z, Tang Q, Li T. Acupuncture for inflammatory bowel disease: A protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2022 Dec 9;101(49):e32236. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000032236. PMID: 36626462; PMCID: PMC9750616.