How Acupuncture Treats Many Common Digestion Problems

Acupuncture helps restore normal digestive system functions.

acupuncture for digestionAcupuncture can help alleviate many different digestive issues.  As a traditional holistic practice, acupuncture evolved through a “whole systems” perspective and works by supporting normal functioning. 

This “wholistic” approach is an often overlooked and underestimated complement to medical treatment. The effects of acupuncture are subtle and cumulative, and when combined with exploring changes in diet and lifestyle, set the stage for natural healing of stomach or bowel problems.

Acupuncture supports digestion by regulating the autonomic nervous system.

Although some active acupuncture points for digestion are on the abdomen, the most powerful traditional acupuncture points are on the arms or legs.  More than two decades of research on the mechanisms by which acupuncture works has clearly demonstrated that some of these acupuncture points have strong whole-system effects.

Reducing Flight-or-Flight  

Extreme stress can cause nausea and is well known to inhibit digestion.  All cultures around the world have a saying about having “a gut feeling” that something is not quite right! Some acupoints, like Stomach 36 (ST 36) just below the knee, and Large Intestine 4 (LI 4) between the thumb and index finger, have been shown to reduce the intensity of the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system by deactivating the amygdalae or the stress part of the brain.

Promoting Rest-and-Digest

On the other hand, we all know about needing to relax to properly digest a big meal.  This same famous ST 36 point also stimulates the “rest and digest” response, also known as your parasympathetic nervous system. In this relaxed state, blood flow to your digestive tract increases, digestive enzymes and secretions activate, intestinal motility increases, and sphincters in the digestive tract relax. A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature showed that stimulation of the acupoint ST 36 regulated inflammatory responses through this “rest-and-digest” parasympathetic nervous system

Another Nature study revealed how ST 36 also promotes signaling to organs like the heart and stomach.

The amazing complexity and coordination of the digestive system is robust – until it is not!

The digestion system is not just the long tract from stomach to colon, but also includes the liver, pancreas, associated immune tissues, and a very, very complex symphony of hormones and nerve interactions between the brain and gut/organs that regulate and integrate the whole process. Recently, it has come to light how important the resident microflora in the gut are to digestion and overall health.  Our colon is home to about 2 kg of very diverse and necessary bacteria that colonize us in the first months of life, representing some 100 trillion in total – more than the number of human cells in a body!

Several research studies in animal models of inflammation have shown that, after acupuncture, the intestinal microbial composition changes to become closer to normal.  Also, pro-inflammatory conditions are diminished, and gut barrier function is restored!

From our food we derive the fuel for movement and energy for all life processes, the basic materials from which we build and repair our bodies, and the myriad vitamins and micronutrients that are critical to the basic functioning and vitality of every cell and system.  

When the system is working in harmony, in all its astonishing complexity, we don’t really notice and kind of take it for granted. But when things go wrong chronically, and the problems causing the dysfunction aren’t addressed, things can spiral into affecting not just the digestive system, but causing a cascade of issues that affects our whole health.

You can eat a super healthy diet, but if you are not properly absorbing key nutrients, you will become sick in the same way as if you were malnourished. Aside from painful and progressively more serious conditions of the gut and related organs, digestive problems can cause fatigue, brain fog, weight loss or gain, poor immunity, as would any of the many disorders and diseases that come from malnourishment.

Acupuncture complements medical treatments.

Chronic digestion conditions should be investigated by your doctor to get properly diagnosed and evaluated.  Here are some digestion problems where research shows acupuncture can help:

Irritable bowel sydnrome (IBS)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Nausea -Chemotherapy Induced

Nausea – Pregnancy Induced

Although less research is available on treating other digestion conditions, there is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence to be found, and many of our clients do respond very well to acupuncture for common constipation and chronic loose stools, gastritis, colitis, and Crohn’s Disease.

Contact us if you have any questions about how acupuncture can help improve your digestion