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Acupuncture for gastrointestinal disorders

Digestion begins in the mouth once food is taken in. Chewing and saliva begin the breakdown of food and prepare it to move through the digestive (gastrointestinal) tract. It passes through the pharynx and esophagus where peristalsis moves food further downward into the stomach. The stomach releases acid to break down food, begins absorbing nutrients, and prepares it to move on to the small and large intestines. Absorption primarily happens in the small intestine, so this is where nutrients are extracted and byproducts are sent onwards to the large intestines for defecation.

Accessory organs that play a secondary role in digestion are the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The liver secretes bile which allows for the breakdown of lipids (fats) and also detoxifies chemicals. The gallbladder works with the liver by storing and secreting bile as needed. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes that aid in digestion and also regulates blood sugar.

Digestion ends by excreting waste products via urine and stool. How Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Can Help Digestive Issues

Symptoms like bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, cramping, and abdominal pain are an indication that things are not moving through the digestive tract efficiently. The root cause of many digestive issues is often chronic stress, improper diet, poor sleep habits, and other lifestyle issues.

Acupuncture helps by balancing the gut-brain axis and the nervous system to reduce stress, which in turn improves digestive function. One of the side effects of an overactive sympathetic nervous system is decreased digestive function. Acupuncture also help reduce pain and inflammation which helps regulate stomach acid and promote peristalsis. Chinese herbs are often used for digestive issues, either alone or in conjunction with acupuncture treatments. They are taken internally and work to adjust digestion like food supplements or diet modification. Common herbs like ginger and liquorice can help improve digestion and have been used for hundreds of years by many cultures around the world. Together, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help with the following digestive issues (and others):

  • Bloating

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

  • IBS

  • Crohn’s disease

  • Acid reflux

  • Ulcerative colitis

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Sources: Zhishun Liu, Shiyan Yan, Jiani Wu, et al. Acupuncture for chronic severe functional constipation: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 2016; 6: 155: 761–769. Sung JJ. Acupuncture for gastrointestinal disorders: myth or magic. Gut. 2002;51:617–619. Chao G.-Q., Zhang S. Effectiveness of acupuncture to treat irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2014;20(7):1871–1877. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i7.1871. Jing Yan, et al., Acupuncture plus Chinese Herbal Medicine for Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019; 2019: 7680963. Published online 2019 Apr 14. doi: 10.1155/2019/7680963.

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