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Digestive Problems

Stress, ‘eating on the run’, poor diet and lack of exercise can all contribute to digestive problems. Our digestive system is made up of various different organs, which when they don’t function properly can cause all sorts of problems such as nausea, bloating, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, constipation, diarrhoea, gastritis and Crohn’s disease.

Acupuncture can help to restore the smooth functioning of the digestive system and relieve these symptoms. Arya Neilson, PhD, Director of the Acupuncture Fellowship Programme at the Beth Israel Medical Center Department of Integrative Medicine in New York says acupuncture is one of several integrative treatments available to combat common gastrointestinal problems.

“Acupuncture treats common GI conditions, and can be an essential part of healing along with dietary changes, probiotics, herbal medicine and conventional medicine”

Acupuncture also stimulates the brain, and the release of pain- and stress-relieving endorphins as well as the immune system, which helps reduce the frequency of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis flare-ups and prevents other digestive diseases from occurring.

The Research

In 2010/11 the University of York conducted a clinical trial on the effectiveness of acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome (MacPherson et al 2012). I was an acupuncturist for the trial and increased my skills in treating IBS by taking further training and by treating such a lot of patients with this distressing condition. The trial was very positive for acupuncture and showed that 49% of the acupuncture group had successful treatment compared with 31% of the control group who received usual care. The acupuncture patients achieved a reduction of 27 points on the IBS Symptom Severity Score and the benefits were largely sustained for over a year.

Further evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture for digestive problems comes from a well-known paper by Vickers et al (1996). They systematically reviewed 33 randomised controlled trials on the efficacy of acupuncture in relieving the effects of nausea and vomiting and found that, overall, the effect of acupuncture was positive.

If you’d like to try acupuncture for your digestive problems, please contact me and make an appointment. To find out what happens at your first appointment, or hear how other people have found receiving acupuncture, just click here.

In the meantime, you may find that making some dietary changes can help.


How diet can help

Switching from processed and junk foods to a healthy array of whole foods is a good way to decrease inflammation and help digestive problems. When making dietary changes, a slow transition is more likely to lead to healthy long-term habits.

  1. Eliminate processed or convenience food. Eliminate as much of these pre-packaged meals and snacks from your diet as you can. Make sure that when you’re looking at your food, you can recognize its source.
  2. Substitute good fats for bad. Often demonized, fats are not all bad. In fact, the right kinds of fats can be very good for you in small amounts. Two kinds of fats are essential to our bodies, and we have to get them from food: omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. A healthy diet should contain a balance of these, but while omega 6 is found in many processed foods, omega 3 isn’t. Increasing intake of foods high in omega 3 can help. Try oily fish such as salmon or sardines, nuts such as walnuts, and stay away from trans fats, saturated fats (found in animal fat) and vegetable shortening.
  3. Be choosy about carbohydrates. You should be selective about the types of carbohydrates you consume. Some carbohydrates in our diet are easily and quickly digestible, such as pasta, pizza, fizzy drinks and chips. These cause a rapid release of glucose and insulin. Instead, choose whole grains and fresh vegetables with a lot of fiber.
  4. Limit sugar. Get rid of sugar, sucrose and fructose in your diet. A can of fizzy drink can contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar. Sugar that is consumed and not needed for energy is then stored as fat. When stored in the gut, that fat can cause inflammatory chemicals to be released.
  5. Pay attention to proteins. If meat is included in your diet, try opting for lean, organic and grass-fed meats that pack protein without added fat. Other alternatives to meat that are great sources of protein include beans and lentils, quinoa, fish, nuts and nut butters.
  6. Get enough vegetables and fruits. Curb your craving for sweets with fresh fruit, and add a variety of vegetables to your diet, aiming for 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Fortunately, diet and other lifestyle choices can help control inflammation by reversing it and preventing it from damaging the body. It just takes knowledge, planning and willpower.


MacPherson H, Tilbrook H, J Martin Bland Martin J, Bloor K, Brabyn S, Cox H, Arthur Ricky Kang’ombe A R, Man M-S, Stuardi T, Torgerson D, Watt I, Whorwell P. (2012) Acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome: primary care based pragmatic randomised controlled trial. BMC Gastroenterology 2012, 12:150 doi:10.1186/1471-230X-12-150

Vickers AJ. Can acupuncture have specific effects on health? A systematic review of acupuncture antiemesis trials. J R Soc Med 1996;89:303–11. [PMC free article] [PubMed]