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Acupuncture and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

While medications and even surgery can be used to relieve painful symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), these treatments carry certain risks and side effects. Acupuncture offers a holistic and natural way to achieve effective and lasting relief.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), including both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC), is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks part of the digestive tract, causing inflammation. The digestive tract includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, large intestine, and small intestine. Inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract not only causes severe pain, but disrupts the body’s ability to process food, absorb nutrients and dispose of toxins and waste. While medications and even surgery can relieve painful inflammatory symptoms, these treatments carry certain risks and side effects. Those searching for a more holistic and less invasive approach to finding relief from IBD symptoms may find success through acupuncture treatment.

Risk Factors and Symptoms of IBD

While the causes of IBD are complex, it is widely accepted that immune system malfunction plays an important role. Risk factors include genetic factors, a family history of IBD, smoking, age, and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, among others). Those with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may experience a range of symptoms, including diarrhea, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramping, reduced appetite, unintended weight loss, or blood in the stool. People with IBD may be at greater risk of developing complications like colon cancer, blood clots, arthritis, or eye inflammation.

Common IBD Treatments and Their Side Effects

Western medicine typically approaches IBD treatment through medication or surgery. Anti-inflammatory drugs, including corticosteroids and aminosalicylates, are commonly prescribed to those experiencing painful symptoms. However, these medications may lead to unpleasant side effects, such as fluid retention, high blood pressure, mood swings, confusion, delirium, headaches, vomiting, or kidney injuries. In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery (bowel resection) to remove the damaged portion of the small or large intestine. As with any surgical procedure, there are inherent risks that individuals should consider before making a decision. Not only does this leave the person with shorter intestines, further compromising nutrient absorption, the inflammatory lesions often recur after surgery.

Acupuncture Offers Relief From IBD Symptoms

As Western practitioners continue to broaden their perspectives on IBD treatment options, existing studies suggest the efficacy of acupuncture in providing relief. According to one systematic review, “acupuncture has been shown to decrease disease activity and inflammation via increase of vagal activity in inflammatory bowel disease” and regulate “gut dysbiosis, intestinal barrier function, visceral hypersensitivity, gut motor dysfunction, depression/anxiety, and pain.” A randomized controlled trial exploring acupuncture for treating Crohn’s disease concluded that acupuncture for those with mild to moderate symptoms led to significant reductions in CD Activity Index (CDAI) scores. Another systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that acupuncture and moxibustion therapy demonstrated better efficacy in reducing IBD symptoms than oral sulphasalazine (SASP). While more robust and comprehensive studies are needed to further understand the impact of acupuncture on IBD symptoms, the existing research shows great promise.


Call the NW Portland office of Inner Works Acupuncture today at (503) 227-2127 to schedule an appointment.

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