Acupuncture for gut health can help tame the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Learn how acupuncture works and how to find a good acupuncturist.
- Acupuncture for gut health can bring about positive improvements for conditions such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
- Acupuncture is an integrative medicine therapy rooted in traditional Chinese medicine.
- Western research shows the effects of acupuncture work by stimulating blood flow and muscle triggers to initiate your body’s natural pain relief responses.
- Acupuncture is a relatively painless, safe procedure.
- Finding the right acupuncture provider is an important part of getting safe, effective care.
Acupuncture for gut health is a complementary and integrative medicine strategy that’s commonly used to manage the symptoms of IBS and other gut conditions. Explore the science behind acupuncture and find out if this type of traditional Chinese medicine therapy is right for you.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an alternative therapy rooted in traditional Chinese medicine. During an acupuncture session, your therapist inserts short, thin needles into your skin. The needles enter into specific points on your body, called acupoints, at different depths to balance your energy and improve your overall wellness.
How does acupuncture work?
There are two main theories about how acupuncture works. Traditional Chinese medicine suggests that acupuncture is effective because it balances the life force, qi. Western scholars believe that neuroscience is the key to understanding how acupuncture works.
Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine holds the belief that your life force, known as qi, flows throughout your body. The two extremes of this life force are yin and yang. If these two energies are balanced, you are healthy, but you can become ill if they’re out of balance.
The effects of acupuncture work by balancing your qi. Qi is thought to flow through pathways in your body that can be accessed through acupuncture points. There are 350 acupuncture points located all over your body. When you seek acupuncture therapy, the provider inserts needles into specific points that help to rebalance your qi and bring your body systems into harmony.
Western medicine theories
In Western medicine, researchers believe that acupuncture works by stimulating your nerves, connective tissues, and muscles. Research shows that when the acupuncture needles are inserted into various points on your body, they trigger it to naturally dull pain and stimulate blood flow.
Your body’s natural responses produce compounds like endorphins that have calming and restorative effects. These compounds help you feel better and reduce negative symptoms like pain, muscle stiffness, nausea, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
What to expect during an acupuncture session
Although every acupuncturist may practice a bit differently, you can expect your acupuncture session to look something like this:
- Your acupuncturist will ask you why you made an appointment and get information about your symptoms, condition, and medical history.
- They will examine your body and decide where to place the needles to balance your energy.
- You will lie down on your side, front, or back, and the therapist will insert sterile, single-use needles into the appropriate points on your body. You might feel slight stinging, tingling, or a dull ache when the needles are inserted. These sensations should go away quickly.
- Expect to stay in your position with the needles inserted for around 5-30 minutes. Your therapist might heat your needles (moxibustion) or stimulate them with an electric current (electroacupuncture), both of which may intensify their effectiveness.
- At the end of your session, the needles are removed and disposed of. Before you leave, your acupuncturist may offer you advice on using other complementary therapies for gut health. Herbal medicine, homeopathy, and massage are excellent ways to supplement your acupuncture treatments.
If you use acupuncture therapy for a non-chronic condition, you’ll need between 8 and 12 sessions to see improvement. If you are using acupuncture for gut health, you will probably go once or twice per week for a few months.
How does acupuncture for gut health work?
Research suggests that acupuncture could be beneficial for a range of gastrointestinal conditions. Acupuncture can work by balancing the brain-gut axis to minimize stress and improve digestion. Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce intestinal inflammation and abdominal pain and regulate peristalsis and stomach acid production.
This makes acupuncture an excellent choice for individuals suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), gastritis, and other digestive disorders, including:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is characterized by bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. It can be triggered by diet or physical and environmental causes, including a change in gut bacteria, overactive intestinal muscle contractions, infection, nervous disorders, or stress.
IBS is often treated with SSRI antidepressants, antispasmodic medications, and drugs to reduce diarrhea. However, many of these medications can have unwanted side effects, such as irritability, dizziness, and loss of appetite.
Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with Western medication treatments for a holistic approach to restoring gut health. Acupuncture works by improving blood flow, regulating hormone production, and calming the nervous system in order to improve digestive functions.
During an acupuncture session, the practitioner may insert needles at various points along your abdomen. They may also place needles in the feet to stimulate the liver or spleen due to the body’s interconnected energy (qi) points.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
IBD is a term used to encompass two digestive disorders: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Individuals with IBD often experience similar symptoms to IBS, including persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding/bloody stools, fatigue, and weight loss.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are autoinflammatory disorders that attack the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and cause inflammation. They are often treated using steroid injections and immunosuppressants. However, you can supplement your current health regimen with natural therapies like acupuncture.
Acupuncture has been shown to decrease GI inflammation by decreasing the levels of pro-inflammatory signals (cytokines). It also increases blood flow to the area to promote healing and restore the intestinal lining of the digestive tract.
Many gut issues are related to stress and poor emotional regulation. Emotion and mood disorders can range from mild to severe and impact your daily life. Effective treatment with acupuncture may alleviate emotional stress caused by insomnia, depression, and anxiety by stimulating the nervous system to produce serotonin, the body’s feel-good hormone.
Individuals with digestive issues typically suffer from other conditions as well, such as headaches and chronic pain. There are numerous conditions that can benefit from a combination of therapies that includes acupuncture. Some health problems that have responded favorably to acupuncture include:
- Dental pain
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Neurological issues like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and postoperative pain
How to find an acupuncture provider
Finding a qualified provider to get safe and effective care is important if you want to try acupuncture therapy. As you search for the right provider, keep the following criteria in mind.
A good acupuncturist:
- Listens to your concerns and offers a personalized approach
- Accepts and complements any Western medical treatments you are undergoing
- Asks clarifying questions and monitors how you progress during your acupuncture sessions
- Creates an accepting and clean environment where you feel comfortable and cared for
Acupuncture is a holistic approach to caring for your gut health and other areas of wellness. It is important to find the right provider to give you quality acupuncture treatment that addresses your wellness concerns.
Search our provider directory to find a gut health provider near you.